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TTERS A M T A TH IT K E TH LL A S Y U B T S E 300 B

TV SOUND

GETS SERIOUS

Soundbars and soundbases go head tohead

June 2016 £4.99 www.whathifi.com

TRANSFORM YOUR TV’s AUDIO FROM £150

4K DISC VS STREAMING

21ST CENTURY TURNTABLES

Amazon & Netflix take on Blu-ray

Vinyl goes digital

B&W VS SENNHEISER

Top-quality hi-fi for your head


W E LC O M E

You look like a movie. You sound like a song

Reviews you can trust

To begin with, I was happy enough to lament – along with everyone else – the horrible sound the vast majority of TVs make. It often seems the better the picture, the more undermined it is by the thin, shrill, entirely unsatisfactory noises that accompany it. Lately, though, I’ve come to realise the solution is in our own hands. We are far from short of brilliantly effective, beautifully discreet ways to put a rocket up the sound of our TV – check out the mix of six soundbars and soundbases at a huge range of prices (p36) and realise you needn’t suffer the zizzy wasp-in-a-bottle sound your TV makes a moment longer. There’s no longer an excuse: soundbars and/or soundbases are now as affordable and as compact as you need, and as expensive, as multi-purpose and as aurally stunning as you’d wish.

Experience & heritage We’ve been hard at work helping the world discover the best in hi-fi and home cinema for nearly 40 years, and have getting on for 100 years of reviewing experience under our collective belts – so you can count on our expert opinions.

Dedicated test facilities We test every product in the magazine or at whathifi.com against its peers in our New! Improved! bespoke reviewing facilities. And we test every product as a team, so our opinions and conclusions are always the result of collaboration.

We spot big trends first MP3 player tests before the iPod even existed? High-def video before it even had a name? That was us. We keep you in touch with big stories and future trends.

Worldwide readership With six international editions in Africa, Asia and Europe, and a global website, we reach more than 2.5 million readers every month.

NEXT MONTH

Simon Lucas, editor

Android smartphones There’s life (and brilliant sound) beyond the Big Apple

My product of the month

Televisions 4K. HDR. OLED. All the acronyms at the lowest prices yet

Tannoy Eclipse Three First Test p16 I’m as big a fan of expensive, high-end and esoteric hi-fi as the next man - but there is a charm and acuity about properly realised ‘budget’ (or, perhaps more correctly, ‘realistic’) hi-fi that’s hard to deny. And Tannoy has it the nail squarely on the head with the Eclipse Threes

Find us on...

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Turntables Because vinyl is the format that simply refuses to die July 2016 issue ON SALE 1st June

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whf.cm/playlist16

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CONTENTS

CO

E T N

S T N

“If you haven for a surround’t the room package, sim sound to a soundbarply look (or soundbas e) Page 38

SAVE UP TO

70% RESPECTED VERDICTS

WHEN YOU SUBSCRIBE TO WHAT HI-FI? Page 76 6 www.whathifi.com

THE WORLD’S MOST

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 Arcam irDAC-II p66 Chord Mojo p67 HEADPHONES Bowers & Wilkins P7 p56 Sennheiser HD630VB p57 Sennheiser HD800S p74 NETWORK AUDIO PLAYER

8 4K TELEVISION

14 SMARTPHONE

A svelte TV with a sharp Smaller, cheaper – the picture and super sound best-value iPhone yet?

Marantz NA6005 p12 PREAMPS/POWER AMPS Luxman C-700u/M-700u p70 STEREO AMPLIFIER Technics SU-C700UK p22 STEREO SPEAKERS Dali Opticon 6 p24 Tannoy Eclipse Three p16 SMARTPHONES Apple iPhone SE p14 Samsung Galaxy S7 p20 SOUNDBARS Canton DM100 p40 Dali Kubik One p42 Edifier CineSound B7 p39 Geneva Model Cinema p41

32 INSIDER

46 TURNTABLES

JBL Boost TV p38

Tannoy hits 90 with no signs of slowing down

Your search for a new turntable just ended

Raumfeld Sounddeck p43 SYSTEMS Quad Artera Play/Artera Stereo p26 TELEVISIONS Panasonic TX-65DX902B p28 Sony KD-55XD9305 p8 TURNTABLES Audio Technica AT-LP5 p48 Flexson VinylPlay p49 Pro-Ject RPM 9 Carbon p19 Rega RP1 Performance Pack p50

61 VERSUS

70 TEMPTATIONS

4K Blu-ray vs streaming. An understated charmer Which side are you on? that’s built like a tank

BUYER’S GUIDE

FINDTHE BEST KIT AROUND, FAST! Our verdicts on every product worth owning, p79

Andrew Murphy Staff writer Audio Technica AT-LP5

“Leaves you somewhere between wanting to keep the record playing and itching to turn it over.“

An old avourite ersus a amboyant ewcomer”

www.whathifi.com 7


FIRST TEST

FIRST TESTS

RD EXCLUSIVE, IN-DEPTH VE

ICTS ON THE LATEST KIT

Sony KD-55XD9305 | Television | £2000

“A 4K picture crisper than Gary Lineker’s pay-packet” FOR Detail; sharpness; great AGAINST Remote not easiest; motion-handling; natural colours not as bright or dark as some

There are plenty of things thicker than this 55in Sony, and we thought we'd list some of them. There’s War And Peace, a chocolate orange, toilet roll... okay, you get the point. Essentially it’s dead thin. That isn’t why you should buy one, of course – though it does mean you can hang your telly on the wall like a picture frame. No, those five stars are more about the fact you’re getting a lot of TV for your money here, qualitatively if not physically. The main thing you ought to know about the XD9305 is that, equipped with Sony’s 4K Processor X1 chip, this screen is both Ultra HD and HDR compatible. There are a couple of extra technologies too: X-tended Dynamic Range PRO and the company’s unique TRILUMINOUS display, which are basically geared to delivering that precious

HDR content as more than just a boxticking exercise. What’s more, all four of the set’s HDMI inputs are waiting open-armed for that 4K content with HDCP compatibility, and having three further USB ports effectively gives you an option for each day of the week. Unless you’ve already shelled out on a 4K Blu-ray player, you’ll probably be streaming most of your Ultra HD content, so will be pleased to find your customary Ethernet port present.

Access and operation Without dwelling on the XD9305’s spec sheet too much, we make use of that port straight away, also plugging in a Panasonic DMP-UB900 4K Blu-ray player and TV cable, and whizz through to the homepage.

IN DETAIL...

The super-slim panel isn‘t just elegant, it also means that wall-mounting the XD93 is a viable proposition

8 www.whathifi.com

★★★★★ KEY FEATURES

HDR 4K HDR

3D

FOUR HDMI 2.0 PORTS

Now, we ought make the point that this remote control, though finely constructed, is more sensitive than the kid who gets picked last at football. Finding its sweet spot in order to change channel can be akin to performing a lumbar puncture on a Borrower. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but if your aim is a little off you might want to download the remote app instead. We’ve sometimes been less-than complimentary about Android TV as well, but this appears to represent that tech it at its least convoluted, at its most intuitive. Your home page is neatly set out into sections for recommended content, featured apps, inputs, your remaining apps, games and settings, with each category significantly malleable. Don’t want to see that input you hardly ever use? Just hide it. Want another to be more easily accessible? Then jig them around.

Apps at the ready

In keeping with the minimalist ethos the stand is clean and simple – plus it‘s large enough to be sturdy

Of course, that’s the ultimate benefit of Android as a concept, as is the building of your personalised collection of apps. Your major streaming apps such as Netflix and Google Play, each of which have dedicated shortcuts on the provided remote, Amazon Prime and MUBI are included, as are the main TV catch-up services. We needn’t list the full portfolio of other apps here, but gamers may be particularly interested in PlayStation Now, which, once you’ve paired a DUALSHOCK4 controller with your TV, allows you to play selected PS3 games, such as The Last Of Us and Batman: Arkham City, directly through your


FIRST TEST

“Your home page is neatly set out into sections for recommended content, featured apps, inputs, your remaining apps, games and settings, with each category significantly malleable.“

HDR isn't just about extending extremes of light and colour – it's about the level of realism too

TV or Blu-ray player without the need to hook up a console. Though we’ve seen enough Android tellies to know our way around, we can’t imagine many people getting lost en route to tuning the thing in. We can imagine even fewer having any qualms about the XD93’s aptitude for 4K upscaling.

A new standard of definition We've no beef with the remote's layout but you'll need to aim it carefully

We flick to find Channel 4’s coverage of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix practice in standard definition. Yes, you read that correctly; we actually watch live sport on a 4K TV without our thumbs itching to change at least to the high-definition broadcast. Most significantly, we’re doing our testing with all Sony’s picture aids – those supposedly helping contrast, motion and whatnot – set to 'off'. Of course, the image seems softer when you switch from HD to SD, but it’s still an impressively detailed and cohesive picture, with a composed, natural colour palette. F1 is ideal for showcasing this Sony’s remarkable control over motion – even with a picture so radically upscaled, the XD9305 manages to avoid dizzying sweeps or intrusive blurring.

HDR explained ‘HDR’ stands for High Dynamic Range, and it is the next big thing in TV world. The term originates in photography, and refers to a technique that heightens a picture’s dynamic range – the contrast between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks.

Realising reality The theory is that the higher the dynamic range, the closer a picture gets to real life. Your TV’s limited dynamic range, its inability to illustrate the finest differences in brightness, means you miss out on the nuances that really ought to be there. Only now, TVs are much more capable. And by that, we mean bright. A normal TV puts out around 100-300 nits of brightness, where one nit (derived from the latin for ‘to shine’) is equivalent to one candle. An HDR TV can in theory get up to 5000 nits. This isn’t about searing your retinas, however. It’s about widening the

range in order to display finer increments of shading. You get more details in the shadows and highlights: sunlight gleams properly off windows, colours appear richer and more lifelike, and have more gradations as well as greater shifts in tone. Basically, your picture looks more natural. Of course, you'll need an HDRcompatible television or a projector, as well as HDR material – that means content filmed or mastered in HDR. HDR is nothing less than a very attractive proposition, yet screens such as this Sony are still a rarity. HDR content has just hit the mainstream via streaming, and it feels like we're on the verge of something very big.

www.whathifi.com 9


FIRST TEST

To get the best from HDR, make sure the relevant HDMI port is set to HDMI 2.0

Much as you’d expect, a change to Channel 4’s high-definition equivalent sharpens the picture considerably. Sharpness has not been a recent shortcoming of Sony’s, nor is it with the XD9305, but most impressive is how each faculty is elevated by the switch to HD; those sharp edges are unconcerned by cars zipping around the circuit, and the drivers look like humans in the post-race interviews. Rather basic criteria, you may think, but we’ve seen many sets where they've more closely resembled characters from The Simpsons. Or shrimp.

Even distribution… We also get a better idea of how those edge LED backlight strips are working at each side; previously we’ve criticised Sony for uneven, blotchy pictures where light is not spread evenly across the screen, but there’s no sense of that here. The 75in equivalent of this set will be fully and evenly backlit, but it’s a pleasure now to find we needn’t move house to accommodate a Sony TV with an even spread of light. What we’re really waiting for, though, is to test the XD9305’s HDR capabilities, so we head eagerly for our 4K Blu-ray of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. A quick but crucial tip: here it’s important that you reconfigure your HDMI port to set it to HDMI 2.0; it’s easily done, but imperative if you want to watch anything greater than 1080i output.

…and clear communication Sony explains that some older DVD players in particular find difficulty communicating with HDMI 2.0 – think your Gran attempting to master Snapchat. This way, though, all four HDMI ports can be compatible with 4K content without encountering those communication

10 www.whathifi.com

“There may be a better television than the XD9305 out there, but you’ll be searching a while before you see one that will reduce your enjoyment of Sony’s latest 55in offering. Simply, there’s little that could keep us from imploring you to buy this“ problems. It takes a system restart once you’ve changed the setting, but we’re of the opinion this flexibility is a good thing. Now for starters, the 4K picture is more crisp than Gary Lineker’s pay-packet; we really begin to appreciate Sony’s handling of motion as well, which helps us circumvent feathering the outlines of silhouettes in order to avoid judder. Without wanting to repeat ourselves, it’s another step up in all regards.

The picture in perspective But it’s HDR we’re most interested in. We’ve spoken previously about this technology’s capabilities, the most impressive of which is the brightness and darkness of those extreme colours. That isn’t necessarily what we get from Sony’s XD93. Probably, by activating HDR, we are extending that dynamic range somewhat, but it isn’t the kind of difference that would strike a newcomer within 30 seconds of entering a TV showroom. No, what impresses us about Sony’s interpretation of HDR is what we believe is most important: a broadened colour palette in terms of gradation that panders to the subtler hues, making skin tones appear more natural and even bolder colours more nuanced. When you hear the phrase ‘higher dynamic range’, you may be most likely to associate that with a broader scale of contrast, but Sony here proves it’s what’s in between that counts.

No one rooted in reality could believe two grand is throwaway money – it would be many an unwanted sober weekend before most of us could afford a set such as this. So when we say you’re getting a lot of telly for your money, it ought to read as quite a statement. We have seen other HDR sets that render the immediate, show-off contrast better, but that won’t matter unless you’ve got what Sony has here. This is not a set simply keeping up with technological advances, but one proving why HDR can be an advance in absolute terms. There may be a better television than the XD93 out there, but you’ll be searching a while before you see one that will reduce your enjoyment of Sony’s latest 55in offering. Simply, there’s little of any matter that could keep us from imploring you to buy this. All good? Then that just about leaves us enough space for another go at the introduction: what about a blackbird, microphone and a… goat?

Says

RATING ★★★ ★★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT Not the absolute blacks or whites of many competitors, but the Sony trumps most of them where it matters: subtlety


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FIRST TEST

Marantz NA6005 | Music streamer | £270

Following the family tradition FOR Solid midrange; bold presentation; good file support;

AGAINST Lacks attack; could be more dynamic; app is flaky

If your firstborn grows up to be a professional sportsman and the second is hailed the next Bob Dylan, you’d reasonably expect the third in the brood to be an overachiever too. From the same gene pool as the Award-winning Marantz CD6005 CD player and PM6005 stereo amplifier, the NA6005 streamer has pretty high standards to maintain if it's going to give the brand’s 6000 Series Bronte sisters-style acclaim. It sits beneath the company’s midrange NA8005 and flagship NA-11S1 streamers but, skimming down its spec sheet, you wouldn’t necessarily get the impression it’s only entry-level status.

capable of handling WAV and FLAC up to 24-bit/192kHz and 2.8/5.6MHz DSDs. You can go down the wireless route instead by attaching the supplied wi-fi antennae at the rear. There’s another for Bluetooth, and built-in Airplay provides another offline streaming option. As far as physical connections go, there’s a USB input (for both playback and charging), optical inputs and outputs alongside a 6.3mm headphone jack and a single-ended analogue to connect to your amplifier. It's a solid, stout bit of casework, available in black or silver and featuring pretty much what we expect from budget Marantz machinery: legible white-on-black text display, straight-up directional buttons and the brand badge. Streaming may be a relatively modern phenomenon, but Marantz isn’t going to mess with its traditional aesthetics.

Traditional aesthetics A network connection gives you access to internet radio, Spotify Connect and music on your network, whether it’s stored on your laptop or a NAS drive, is an MP3, WAV or DSD file – the Marantz’s CS4398 DAC is

★★★★ ★ The NA6005 has a big reputation to maintain, and while it can't quite match its siblings, it is a decent, solid music streamer Having a dial to turn to scroll libraries would be more intuitive than pressing buttons, though, and looking at it next to the modern Pioneer N-50A (£500) we’d also prefer a splash of colour and album artwork. But it’s more than adequately functional and attractive and, considering its humble asking price, that does seem a little like wanting steering wheel warming and ventilated seats in an entry-level Ford. While handheld remotes are almost always preferential to on-unit control, rarely are they favoured over an app, the nucleus of the streaming experience. But sadly, that’s not the case here. The Marantz Hi-Fi Remote app (available free on iOS and Android) is pretty abysmal. Although it offers up an easier control method to browse music libraries, and gives you the opportunity to build playlists, and control any connected Marantz CD player and/or amplifier in one place, it’s unashamedly flaky.

"From the same gene pool as the Awardwinning Marantz CD6005 CD player and the PM6005 stereo amplifier, the NA6005 streamer has pretty high standards to live up to" IN DETAIL...

1 Attaching the two antennae at either side of the streamer gives the Marantz both wifi and Bluetooth functionality

1

1 2

3

2 We would recommend wiring the streamer to your home network, but there is wi-fi on board as well

3 Connect the streamer to a Marantz amp and both can be controlled by remote and the 'Hi-Fi Remote' app

12 www.whathifi.com


  

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FIRST TEST

Apple iPhone 5SE | Smartphone | £360

Star of the small screen FOR Small screen; good spec; decent camera; battery life

AGAINST Contrast could be better; audio lacks dynamics

★★★★ ★

It’s a sign of the times when a smartphone coming in at over £350 for the basic model is described as cheap. The iPhone 5SE isn’t cheap, but it is, on paper at least, the best-value iPhone we’ve ever seen. It’s actually Apple’s second stab at the more affordable market – the first being the misjudged iPhone 5C in 2013, which managed to be both overpriced and underfeatured for those who could afford it. This time, Apple seems to have the balance just right. Yes, it looks just like a phone first released almost four years ago, but a well-loved design combined with a spec sheet that could be mistaken for that of the iPhone 6S sounds pretty promising.

Pocket-friendly price The iPhone 5SE looks and feels identical to the 5 and 5S with a few subtle differences, including the edges being matte-chamfered. Otherwise it’s business as usual when it comes to button placement, so any iPhone 5/5S accessories should fit the 5SE too. It feels small, but that will please those who aren’t fans of the current trend for ‘bigger is better’ handsets. Coming from the larger 6S, texting does feel strange at first, but we’re soon back to typing without issue. The 4in screen is the same display as that in the 5 and 5S, which means it takes a dip in resolution from the 750 x 1334 screen of the 6S to 640 x 1136. It keeps the same 326ppi Retina display and we don’t notice huge differences in the detail levels. Brightness doesn’t go quite as high, so viewing the screen outside in sunlight can prove a little tricky, and viewing angles aren’t as strong. We notice a difference in colour and contrast, too. Blacks don’t go as inky deep on the 5SE and whites aren’t as pure and bright, something that shows up more when viewing black text on white webpages than when watching videos. Colours lack the punch of the 6S, making pictures a little flat in comparison. There’s still plenty of detail, and colours are wonderfully judged, but it falls behind the screens on the pricier iPhones. We’re no longer sold on the idea of a 4in screen for watching video either – the larger 6S or 6S Plus make for more immersive experiences. Finally, Apple has done away with the 3D Touch of the iPhone 6S, so there’s no ‘peek and pop’ here. However, that’s a premium feature and one we’re happy to give up for a more pocket-friendly price tag.

14 www.whathifi.com

“A well-loved design, combined with the spec sheet of the iPhone 6S, sounds very promising” One of the biggest things the 5SE has going for it is that it packs just as much horsepower as the iPhone 6S, with Apple’s 64-bit A9 chip and M9 co-processor on board, alongside 2GB RAM. That’s two times faster CPU and three times faster GPU performance than the iPhone 5S.

It’s business as usual for button placement – good news for those with iPhone 5 accessories

KEY FEATURES

The smaller screen ekes out the battery life too, offering an improvement over the 6S. We usually find ourselves reaching for the charger for the 6S midway through the day, but notice the 5SE holding on for longer. Apple’s TouchID fingerprint scanner appears on the 5SE for both security and Apple Pay functionality, however, it's a little slower than the one on the 6S as it uses the previous generation’s scanner. We’ve always praised the audio on iPhones, but the 5SE leaves us a little disappointed. It’s still a crisp, precise and well-timed performance, but the 6S overshadows it in almost every other way. Listen to an orchestral piece, such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and dynamically the iPhone 6 leaves the 5SE for dust. Not only does it portray soft and loud better, but its sense of scale and instrument separation is better. There’s also more subtle detail on the iPhone 6S – voices have more insight and there’s more texture and tonal differentiation in the guitar strums and piano notes, which the 5SE glosses over. The main camera on the 5SE is the same 12MP camera as on the 6S, with 4K video recording (up from 1080p on the 5S) and dual-LED flash. Apple has chosen to leave the 5S’s lo-res 1.2MP front-facing snapper on the 5SE instead of upgrading to the 5MP iSight camera on the 6S. There’s a difference in quality here, especially in low light. The iPhone 5SE may seem like the best value iPhone, but that doesn’t mean it comes without compromises. From an audio perspective, it is beaten by its pricier sibling and that 4in screen won’t be for everyone either. But if size doesn’t matter and you want the best, the higher-end iPhone is where it’s at. There’s around £180 difference upfront for the 64GB model (less on contract). We’d go for that option – your movies and music will thank you for it.

4in SCREEN

Size doesn't matter This, combined with a smaller screen, makes for a quick and smooth experience with no hesitation whether you're moving between apps or swiping through menus. Games play smoothly and webpages load quickly too – most noticeably Safari is able to keep multiple tabs loaded in the background without the need to refresh them, allowing for faster page switching than was possible on the 5S.

says

RATING ★★ ★★ ★ 640 X 1136 RESOLUTION

SCREEN SOUND FEATURES

12MP CAMERA

VERDICT The 5SE is a fine phone for those who want a small screen. Its pricier sibling does better with audio and video though


FIRST TEST

Tannoy Eclipse Three | Stereo speakers | £300

“No problem with having a good time“ FOR Articulate presentation; expressive midrange

AGAINST They need to be given space to breathe

★★ ★ ★ ★

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that it has been years since we’ve tested budget floorstanders we could recommend without hesitation. Most of them just sound bloated and unwieldy next to their smaller standmount siblings. They invariably offer lots more bass, but that’s worth having only if it's articulate and well integrated. Usually it’s not. So we’re pleased to report Tannoy’s new Eclipse Threes buck that trend, turning in an engaging performance that compares to the best standmounters at the price.

We position the Eclipses almost a metre out into our listening room with just a touch of toe-in to solidify the stereo imaging. Depending on your room you can go as close as 50cm to the rear wall without issue. But make sure you stay away from corners and sidewalls or the bass end becomes a bit boomy. While these towers aren’t unduly fussy, when it comes to partnering equipment, they will reward the good quality source and amplification. Something such as Marantz’s CD6005 CD player (£300) coupled to Onkyo’s A-9010 amplifier (£200) is a good choice.

(£500) and you’ll realise more in the way of low-end reach, insight and authority, but at £300 we haven’t heard any rival do better. Tonally these speakers don’t sound particularly pure, but that’s not unexpected. At least they’re well balanced, and smooth enough to work well with a wide range of kit. This kind of unfussy nature is essential for budget speakers. We’re pleased by the Tannoy’s ability to organise detail too, and their refusal to get messy when things take a turn for the complex. They hold on to instrumental strands firmly and keep things composed even as volume levels rise. These towers aren’t perfect – no rival we’ve heard is either – but they’re enjoyable and informative while being easy to set up and partner. These things count for a lot at these price levels. As far as budget floorstanders go, these are the best we’ve heard in recent years.

Surprise package Once they're out of their packaging, you’d be hard pushed to find anything in these Tannoys to indicate a class-leading performance. These are very much budget boxes built down to a price, but within those restrictions they’re relatively solid and nicely finished. The price point also limits the choice of finishes. In this case there’s just one – Black Oak. There may be three drivers on show, but from an electrical point of view these are two-way speakers. The pair of 13cm coatedpulp mid/bass units cross over to the 28mm woven-polyester dome tweeter at 3.2kHz – a little higher than we normally see. Once you’ve attached the plinths – which give the 96cm-tall speakers greater stability – it doesn’t take much to get them singing. The plinths are essentially two plastic bars held on by screws. It’s short work to attach them and screw in the floor spikes.

Unfussy nature Once properly run-in – we leave them running over a weekend – these speakers turn in a fine performance. They’re agile, articulate and, well… just fun. Listen to Prince’s 1999 and it’s obvious the Eclipses have no problem when it comes to having a good time. There’s plenty of snap to the rhythm track, a good dose of attack and enough refinement at the top-end to prevent things turning overly harsh. Prince’s vocals are as quirky as ever with the Tannoys’ fluid and articulate midrange coming to the fore. We switch to Holst’s Jupiter and the Tannoys continue to impress. They deliver a good dose of scale and deliver the music’s huge dynamic swings with plenty of conviction. Spend more to buy the likes of the Award-winning Q Acoustics 3050

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND COMPATIBILITY BUILD

VERDICT Great budget floorstanders have been a rarity of late. These Tannoys are the most talented we’ve heard in years

SYSTEM BUILDER

CD PLAYER Marantz CD6005 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £300 A fantastic player and great value for money. Combines refinement and dynamics brilliantly

16 www.whathifi.com

AMPLIFIER Onkyo A-9010 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £200 If you’re looking for a musically captivating budget amplifier, the Onkyo A-9010 is a treat

TURNTABLE Pro-ject Essential II ★★ ★ ★ ★ £210 2015 Award-winner is an excellent entry-level turntable that gets all the basics spot-on

KEY FEATURES

REAR PORTED

90dB/W/m

96 X 27 X 29cm


FIRST TEST They may have the appearance of budget speakers, but these Tannoys certainly put in a class-leading performance

IN DETAIL...

Drive units integrate well, and they deliver an articulate midrange too

Plastic stabilisers are screwed on to the base for levelling and extra stability

It's single-wired, but at this budget price, that's not an issue

“Once properly run in – we leave them running over a weekend – the Tannoy Eclipse Threes turn in a fine performance. They’re agile, articulate and, well… just fun”

The Eclipse Threes come with cloth grilles to protect the drivers from dust – and fingers


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#DBNTOKDC #NTAKD #NLD SVDDSDQ


FIRST TEST

Pro-Ject RPM 9 Carbon (with Ortofon Quintet Black) | Turntable | £1900

Carbon goes on a high-fibre diet FOR Solid and full-bodied; strong stereo imaging; design

AGAINST Needs more dynamic expression

★★★★ ★

If you’re the kind of person who gets drawn in by The Best Of… CD for £5, ‘with any purchase’ or puts 12 tins of baked beans in your trolley instead of the two you need to save 26p, and you happen to be in the market for a new high-end turntable, you might be interested in one of Pro-Ject’s latest spinners. The RPM 9 Carbon (£1500) can partner Ortofon’s MC Quintet Black moving-coil cartridge (£650) in a £1900 package for a saving of £250. Ortofon calls the cartridge its ‘best of everything’.

Some selfassembly is required but it's easy enough

The same, but different A successor to the RPM 9.2 Evolution, the RPM 9 Carbon uses the same guitar-pickshaped plinth, but this one is encrusted with resin-coated steel pellets for greater heft and rigidity. If the name weren't enough of a giveaway, Pro-Ject has also covered it in carbon-fibre to further reduce unwanted vibrations. Carbon-fibre has also been chosen for the tube on the inverted-bearing 9CC Evolution tonearm. Aside from the material’s intended sonic repercussions, its shimmery, speckled finish makes sense from an aesthetic point of view. The RPM 9 Carbon really is a sight for sore eyes and certainly looks a cut above its smaller siblings and the Regas that dominate midrange turntable territory. A new aluminium platter has also been fitted, featuring internal damping and a super-smooth vinyl top that Pro-Ject recommends using without a slip mat.

Right on the button The RPM 9 Carbon uses a belt-drive mechanism with an automatic speedcontrol switch, which saves you having to adjust the belt manually. That’s built into an outboard motor and controlled by a single button. Press it to start, again to change speed between 33⅓ and 45rpm (a blue LED flashes as it adjusts), and hold it down for a few seconds to stop it. While the Pro-Ject comes partassembled, it still requires a bit of work

from your end – see it as a labour of love. You need to screw the three feet on, mount the platter and outboard motor, and, with the help of a gauge, set counter- and balance weights. As long as you haven't forgotten to put the hefty clamp onto the spindle, you’re good to go.

Authoritative stance Like many Pro-Jects before it, the RPM 9 Carbon is unmistakably authoritative and full-bodied in its attitude, offering nothing less than a fulsome, yet composed, introduction to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The commanding organs and theatrical riffs that open In The Flesh? sound big and solid, and the war effects and helicopters that drill through the instruments are vast and imposing. In the same breath, rippling electric guitars, dramatic drum rolls and Roger Waters’ echoed vocals assert themselves with a weighty confidence and strong stereo imaging, and there’s all the resolution and cohesion we expect from a turntable of this price. Leaving the clamp off dilutes the presentation’s sense of assurance and solidity somewhat, so we wouldn’t go without. While not the last word in conviction, the Pro-Ject is hardly coy. In Supertramp’s

KEY FEATURES

331/3 AND 45RPM

ELECTRIC SPEED CONTROL

From Now On, keyboards thrust through the soundstage with resolve, although we have heard more effervescent renditions in which Rick Davies’ fingers sound close to going through the keys. The bass line is taut and dynamic, while cymbals slice with a degree of precision and tangibility that conjures the image of the Samurai sword decapitation in Kill Bill Vol 1. The way the sweet melodic saxophone solo freewheels through the soundstage shows off the Pro-Ject’s dynamic range, although more expression wouldn’t hurt. And it’s not quite as quick on its feet as it needs to be to convey the jubilant pace changes in Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel. It has to be said, musically we’re left a little wanting.

Skill and class Although there are decks that can carry a rhythm track with more verve and dynamic articulacy, the Pro-Ject has plenty of sonic skill and aesthetic class to rationalise the money you'll spend to get it. For this price, it’s a fine turntable indeed.

says

RATING ★★ ★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

“Cymbals slice with a degree of precision and tangibility that conjures the image of the Samurai sword decapitation in Kill Bill Vol 1”

BUILD

VERDICT A solid and authoritative turntable, but one that could do with being more expressive

www.whathifi.com 19


FIRST TEST

Samsung Galaxy S7 | Smartphone | £570

“S7 tops everything yet” FOR Superb screen; hi-res audio support; microSD card

AGAINST Music could have a touch more drive

★★ ★ ★ ★

The Samsung Galaxy S7 is like an S6 that’s taken a long hard look in the mirror and vowed to be better. After producing two of the best phones a fledgling Android had seen with the S2 and S3 handsets, the Galaxy range seemingly lost its focus – an awkward teenage phase where gimmicky software and uninspiring design were the order of play. Then the S6 happened. It felt like a turning point, like everything had fallen back into place at the right time. Samsung was back, and it meant business. Never more so than this year and the Galaxy S7. You won’t find big flashy innovations here – Samsung has learned its lesson. Instead, it’s concentrated on some careful tweaking of a great phone to make it one of the best smartphones you can buy.

minutes – something we haven’t seen on a Galaxy handset since the S5. It’s a welcome return though, especially since Samsung has waterproofed the microUSB port so there’s no need for a fiddly rubber cover. Another welcome return is the microSD card slot, previously nixed to accommodate the more premium design. It was one of few criticisms of last year’s handset, so it’s good to see it has been squeezed in as part of the SIM tray. You’ll now be able to boost the 32GB internal storage by up to another 200GB. The final design tweak is another subtle one, but one that will please the nitpickers. While the rear camera module jutted out from the slim body of the S6, Samsung has managed to get it much closer to the body of the S7. It still doesn’t quite sit flush, but it’s close enough to make a cleaner line. Last year’s S6 display was among the best we’d seen on a phone – so we’re glad to see that it looks as good as ever. Samsung hasn’t been tempted by the battery-draining pull of 4K, as on Sony’s Z5 Premium. It sticks with the 2560 x 1440 2K Super AMOLED display from last year. That’s fine by us. Colours are vivid but realistic, blacks are deep, and lines are crisp and sharply drawn. Contrast is superb too, allowing whites to punch through even the darkest of scenes, with plenty of fine detail. The iPhone picks out a touch more detail in the shadows, but the S7 answers that by pipping the Apple for highlight detail.

Samsung still offers a few screen modes: we find Basic gives the best, most natural balance. AMOLED cinema might look initially impressive with its pure bright whites, but we find colours tend to be a touch over-rich, which affects subtlety. The Basic mode brings a warmer tone to whites, which you might notice more on webpages. If this bothers you, switch to the AMOLED mode for browsing – but remember to change it back to Basic when watching video for the best experience. A new feature this year is the Always On display, which allows you to have basic information – time, date and notifications – appear on your screen at all times. The reason? Samsung says we check our phone screen more than 150 times a day. The Always On display drains less battery – just 1 per cent per hour according to Samsung.

Pipping the Apple From a purely design perspective, the Galaxy S7 looks similar to its predecessor, sharing almost identical dimensions to the S6. It’s actually 14g heavier and 1.1mm thicker, but that’s not something you’re going to notice in the hand. Pick it up though, and you will feel something different. While the build is still as premium as ever, all glass and aluminium, the back now has a subtle curve to its edges, making it easier and more comfortable to hold, with a little added grip. It’s waterproof too – IP68 rated for handling depths of up to 1.5m for up to 30

KEY FEATURES

2560 X 1440

12MP CAMERA

5.1in SCREEN

Instant focus We all know better than to judge a camera by its megapixels, so the S7 dropping from 16MP to 12MP is nothing to be alarmed about. For a start, this is the world’s first smartphone with dual-pixel autofocus – something usually found in full-blown DSLR cameras. This basically allows for almost-instant focusing speeds in around 0.2 seconds. Not only does it mean you’ll get great, sharp shots without waiting around, but it will also track fast-moving subjects

IN DETAIL...

The base of the Galaxy S7 hasn't changed much, and houses a 3.5mm jack, USB port and speaker outputs

20 www.whathifi.com

The S7 is the first smartphone with dual-pixel autofocus, which allows for almost-instant focusing speeds

The microSD card slot returns as part of the SIM tray. You can now boost storage by up to 200GB

Samsung has managed to get the rear camera module closer to the S7's body than on last year's model


FIRST TEST The build is still aluminium and glass, but the back has a subtle curve, making it more comfortable and easier to hold

“You won’t find flashy innovations on the S7 – instead Samsung has carefully tweaked a great phone and made it one of the best you can buy”

Samsung has been working on phone audio for a few years, and the benefits are clear. Music sounds well organised, digging out plenty of detail across the board and showing a good ability with dynamics. Bass is tight and well controlled, and there’s a lovely clarity to vocals that, if pushed, we’d say could just pip what we heard last year.

Sweet tweaks

Samsung resisted the pull of 4K, and has left the display unchanged from the S6 – one of the best we had seen on a smartphone and keep them in focus. This isn’t the only improvement from the S6 though. A larger aperture (up from f/1.9 to f/1.7) lets in 25 per cent more light, and an increase in pixel size means over 50 per cent more light than before is absorbed. There’s also optical image stabilisation to keep things sharp. All of this should make for better results in low light, so we first try taking a snap in a very dark room without flash and, while the S7’s live preview doesn’t look too promising, the results are. Objects that the iPhone 6s is barely able to detect are present and correct – a little soft perhaps, but brightened and visible all the same. Well-lit photos are more closely matched though, and performance is good. Colours are bright and vivid, contrast is strong and edges are well defined – all things we’ve come to expect from Samsung.

Video is also available all the way up to 4K resolution. We stick to 1080p for the perfect balance of detail and file size, but there’s also slo-mo and hyperlapse recording to hand should you wish.

Sorted for Wiz It’s not just hardware where Samsung has listened to feedback – it appears to have heard the cries for a less oppressive TouchWiz interface too. It's is still there of course, sitting over Android 6.0, but it’s more subtle. Samsung’s pre-installed apps are kept to a minimum – not even a Samsung music player is installed (though you can download it) – and they are tucked away in their own folder. Still too Samsung for you? The S7 even allows you to choose to use the Google Now launcher at setup for a more vanilla Android experience.

The iPhone 6s still takes it for rhythmic drive though, with the full-bodied Apple sound giving it a bit more solidity compared with the Samsung’s leaner approach too. Hi-res audio is still supported in the S7 – and with the microSD card slot offering the ability to expand the phone’s memory at will, it’s now more viable too. Though the Galaxy S6 hardly left us wanting, Samsung has used its new Exynos 8890 processor in the Galaxy S7, offering a 30 per cent speed bump and giving it even more horsepower. RAM is up to 4GB from 3GB as well, which helps with fast load times, plus there’s a 64 per cent faster GPU. It’s remarkably fast, with stutter-free transitions between apps. Swiping through menus is fluid and immediate and games run smoothly without lag. The S7’s battery also gets a boost over its predecessor, up from 2550mAh to 3000mAh (though it’s still not removable). It’s a welcome upgrade, and regular users will easily see out a day. After such a big jump in design last year, Samsung has stuck to its guns and, rather than go for headline-grabbing changes, has made a series of refinements to the S7’s look and feel. Those tweaks come together to make a pretty impressive package. The S7 looks great on paper, but it’s even better in use – a real all-rounder that tops anything we’ve seen from Samsung yet.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SCREEN SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT Samsung has just made its best even better – the Galaxy S7 is one of the best Android phones around right now

www.whathifi.com 21


FIRST TEST

Technics SU-C700UK | Stereo amplifier | £1250

One small step, but no giant leap for Technics FOR Beautiful finish; better dynamics than the original

We were as pleased as anyone at the reintroduction of Technics. It remains one of the most well-known hi-fi brands, and has made some fantastic kit back in its time. But it’s fair to say the first wave of new products hasn’t impressed us. The SU-C700 integrated amp was a disappointment in particular, delivering a tepid sound that barely managed to keep our interest. It struggled to a two-star review. To Technics’ credit it didn’t throw its corporate toys out of the pram. Instead the company came to our test rooms, heard what we heard, and got back to work. The result is this upgraded UK-tuned version, which features a raft of component changes in the power supply and audio circuits. The basic circuit layout is unchanged, though. At the moment this version is available only in the UK, but it could gain wider distribution if there is demand.

Cool power meters Externally, it’s pretty much as it was, which is a good thing. This is a beautifully built product, solidly assembled and finished to a very high standard. We love the precise

AGAINST Still not good enough to worry class leaders

way the main rotary controls move, and have a soft spot for design details such as the power meters. They’re of limited use, but they just look cool. The remote is good too. It feels nice to hold and is intuitively organised – it’s so much nicer than the handsets supplied with most rivals. Look inside the amp and you’ll find Class D circuitry. It helps to account for the C700’s compact dimensions and relatively cool running characteristics. Such designs can be fussy about speaker matching though, so Technics has come up with a rather clever system called ‘Load Adaptive Phase Calibration’, or LAPC.

Forward-looking design An extended press of the LAPC button (on the remote) gets the system set-up going and the SU-C700 emits a series of relatively loud test signals to measure the electrical

★★★ ★ ★ characteristics of the partnering speakers. It takes a few minutes, but once done it’s easy to switch the function in and out, and doing so shows the LAPC option to sound crisper, cleaner and more even. The amplifier’s power output remains 45W per channel. Even that modest figure is obtained by Technics using some generous conditions – 1kHz, THD 0.3 per cent, 20kHz LPF. Despite retro details such as the power meters, the SU-C700 is very much a forward-looking design. There’s just one line-level connection (alongside a movingmagnet phono input), but three coaxs, an optical and type B USB for digital sources.

“This upgraded amp delivers a decent performance and is a clear step ahead of the first version. But at this price it’s not enough to gain recommendation”

KEY FEATURES

DIGITAL INPUTS 24-BIT/192KHZ

SAMPLING RATE

DSD128

IN DETAIL... 1 The good range of digital inputs includes USB (type B), co-ax and optical. All perform to a similar standard

2

3

2

Analogue inputs are limited to just this single option. It's worth thinking about if you have a complex system

3

1

22 www.whathifi.com

Moving magnet phono stage is included , which is something of a rarity. It's a fair effort, though we'd use an outboard alternative


FIRST TEST

After the two-star SU-C700, Technics moves a step in the right direction, but it still comes up short against its talented rivals

The amp will cope with both 24-bit/192kHz PCM files and double-speed DSD. Outputs are limited to headphones and speakers. We use our trusty Naim NDS/555PS streamer to provide both analogue and digital feeds to the Technics, aided by our Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable and Cyrus’s CDi CD player. A Macbook Air loaded with Pure Music software provides the feed for the USB input. We try a range of speakers from Tannoy’s budget Eclipse Three floorstanders and B&W 685 S2s all the way through to our reference ATC SCM 50 speakers. Headphone duties are taken care of by Grado’s PS500 and AKG’s K550s.

Off the scale We leave the amplifier running a couple of days before we start serious listening. First the good news: this UK-tuned version is notably better than the original. It’s happier playing a wider range of music and far more enthusiastic with it. We begin with Nirvana’s Nevermind and like the amplifier’s greater bite and attack. There’s an admirable degree of speed here and plenty of grip at low frequencies. Detail levels are good and the amplifier does a fair job of conveying the drive and aggression of the piece. Moving on to Hans Zimmer’s Coward (from the Interstellar OST) and the SU-C700

has a decent handle on soundstaging. Instruments are precisely placed and layered with care. Timing is crisper than it was on the original and there’s more dynamic finesse on show. The presentation isn’t as expansive as we’d like though – it’s as if the Technics is rendering a scale model of the original recording. Tonality – with LAPC turned on – is nicely balanced with no part of the frequency range gaining undue emphasis. There’s a good degree of refinement, with the Technics refusing to turn bright or nasty even when provoked by less-than perfect recordings. The sound remains consistent through all the inputs – digital or not – which isn’t always a given. Even the phono stage is serviceable, though we’d still go for a dedicated outboard unit if vinyl performance is a priority. The headphone output isn’t particularly good though, turning out a thinner, harder version of what we hear through our speakers. So this upgraded amp delivers a decent overall performance and is a clear step ahead of the first version in terms of rhythm and dynamics. But, disappointingly, it isn’t enough to gain recommendation. Not at this price.

The Technics is up against some mighty talented rivals. While it may not have digital inputs, Rega’s £900 Elex-R is notably more expressive, tracks rhythms with far more grit and is just so much more fun to listen to. If digital inputs are important, a £400 Chord Mojo or £500 Arcam irDAC II would fill in just fine, and at not too much of a premium either. The Technics doesn’t have the scale, punch or authority of the similarly priced (and equipped) Roksan K3 either. Against rivals such as these, this compact amplifier still comes up short in too many sonic areas to compete. So, while this new version is a definite step in the right direction, that step needs to be much bigger before any of the class leaders can feel as though their place is under threat.

says

RATING ★★★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT This UK-tuned version is an improvement, though still lacks the insight, dynamics and rhythmic abilities of the best

www.whathifi.com 23


FIRST TEST

Dali advises that you position the speakers parallel with the rear wall, rather than toed in

Dali Opticon 6 | Stereo speakers | £1200

“Exudes confidence” FOR Bold and expressive; fine balance, with lots of low end

AGAINST Could be more delicate and refined

★★★★ ★

If this were a divorce court, the amount of control Dali exerts over its Opticon speakers could lose it a fair amount in damages. “We wanted to be in control of not only the design, development, construction and manufacturing of this speaker series, but also to keep as many of the parts in-house as possible and thereby have even tighter control over the quality,” it says. That painstaking concern for detail was rewarded with a four-star review of the enthusiastic Opticon 1 standmounters last year, and we’ve equally high hopes as we lift these similarly distinguished Opticon 6 floorstanders from their boxes.

are capable. The lows can rumble and the trebles are rich and soaring, all tied in by an energetic, but warm and composed midrange. There are four drivers at work here, but their integration is seamless. At no point do we notice any detachment among the frequencies, which is an achievement in itself.

Indispensible talents

Prime position The first thing you’ll notice, having removed the grilles, is an intriguing driver configuration comprising a pair of 16.5cm dust-cap-free woofers, built in-house using Dali’s wood-fibre composite (the random structure of which helps produce a rich sound and stop build-up of internal

“Eight seconds is all we need to gauge how infectious a listen this is going to be” resonance), and a combined soft dome and ribbon tweeter module promising wide and even dispersion of treble. The extra bass driver combined with the volume of its one-metre-tall MDF lacquered cabinet and the pair of reflex ports at the rear promises a lot of muscle for your money. Dali asks that you position the speakers parallel with the rear wall, not toed in, to lower distortion in the listening area and aid room integration – besides, that ribbon tweeter is designed to disperse sound evenly in front of the speaker. Other than that, it is largely a matter of experimentation, but we have ours about three metres apart, and about one metre away from the back and side walls of our listening room.

An infectious listen We're in an excitable enough mood to head straight for Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell album, and evidently these speakers are of a similar state of mind. Eight seconds – that’s all we need of the opening synthesizer motif of Rich to gauge these

24 www.whathifi.com

Dali’s wood-fibre composite cabinet helps to stop any undesirable internal resonance speakers’ sass, the confidence and energy they exude and how infectious a listen this is going to be. For the next eight, our focus is turned to the drums that have now joined the fray, displaying a boldness of which Arya Stark would be proud. That pair of woofers are certainly pulling their weight. Karen O’s vocal retains its characteristic sharpness, but gains from support in the bass and midrange. The bass harmonics of Nick Zinner’s low-strung guitarline anchors the whole piece in uninterested, early-2000s guitar-music cool. There’s no let-up in attitude as the pace hastens with tracks like Date With The Night and Pin, and we get a commanding view of the tonal balance of which the Opticon 6

KEY FEATURES

We attempt to catch Dali off guard with Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne No2 in E-flat Major, but are welcomed by an equally confident and balanced performance. The Opticon 6s don’t ignore dynamics by any means, but still manage to give an energetic and uplifting rendition of this piece which can so often be made to sound dreary, pedestrian even. It isn’t the most delicate of performances, though nor does it delve as deeply as some competitors into vocal or instrumental expression. However, our main point of comparison here, the Tannoy Revolution XT6Fs, have what the Dali Opticon 6s don’t: extra precision in terms of rhythm and fine detail, greater front-to-back dimensions and the explicit vulnerability of the artist. They don’t have the body or the exuberance of the Opticon 6s, yet are no better or worse for it. The Dalis and the Award-winning Tannoys are going about the same task in different ways – it’s really up to you to decide how you want your music rendered. The Opticon 6s lose a star because they don’t have the insight of their Awardwinning rivals, not ignoring the fact they are more expensive. Make a list of indispensible talents for your next pair of speakers, and, if the words 'bold' and 'exciting' feature anywhere near the top of it, the Opticon 6s could well be the solution for you.

says

HAND-ASSEMBLED

RATING ★★ ★★ ★ RIBBON AND DOME TWEETER

SOUND COMPATIBILITY BUILD

OPTION TO BI-WIRE

VERDICT The Dali Opticon 6s aren’t the perfect all-rounder, but there are few more enthusiastic or entertaining speakers


FIRST TEST

Quad Artera Play & Artera Stereo | CD preamp/power amplifier | £2900

Twin Arteras make it an affair of the heart FOR Scale; connectivity; good organisation; bass weight

AGAINST Lack cohesion and insight; timing could be better

Take one look at Quad’s Artera range and we challenge you not to want to take a listen. The duo – the Artera Play CD player/ DAC/preamp and Artera Stereo power amp – is so beautifully designed that it’s a love-at-first-sight situation; we’re in love with the idea of them before we’ve even got to know them. They don’t have to come as a pair but they’re quite obviously designed to, so much so that we can’t see why you would consider buying one without the other. For that reason, we’re testing them as a system, so all you need to do is add speakers. There’s something of a nod to Quad’s history in the Artera range. Indeed, Rodney

into 8 ohms (250W in 4 ohms), so it should be able to drive just about any speakers. In the box with the Play is a remote that features all the usual playback controls, including numbers for skipping to specific CD tracks, and a handful of controls for source and menu options. These options include the ability to choose one of several digital filters – but more on that later. The Artera Play also features a fairly limited touchscreen interface that forms part of its circular display. It allows you to play or pause a track by tapping towards the top of it, or change source by tapping at the bottom. We hardly found need to use it, but the functionality is there should you want it.

★★★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

140W/CHANNEL 32-BIT/384KHZ

SAMPLING RATE

DSD

The filter factor

“The duo is so beautifully designed that it’s a love-at-first-sight situation; we’re in love with the idea of them before we’ve even got to know them“ Mead, the man behind many of Quad’s classic hi-fi products from the ’70s to the ’90s, was involved in their design, which uses a sturdy combination of a textured aluminium front panel and thick glass top, with slim heat sinks on either side. Not only does this make them look the part, but it provides a rugged structure that minimises resonance. It also means the Artera Play can be stacked on top of the Artera Stereo without any notable effect on the sound.

Multi-faceted functionality The Artera Play is quite the box of tricks. It packs a slot-loading CD player, while also working as a DAC and preamp, with a whole host of digital and analogue connections to play with as a result. These include two each of optical, coaxial and RCA phono inputs, plus a USB-B for hooking up a computer. Outputs are covered by either balanced XLR or RCA pre-outs, as well a coaxial and optical out. The Artera Stereo supports its multifaceted partner by packing a whole lot of power into its compact dimensions. Quad rates it “conservatively” at 140W per channel

26 www.whathifi.com

At the heart of the Artera Play is the ESS Sabre32 9018 chip, a 32-bit DAC that makes its Quad debut in this product. It supports and futureproofs the unit to accept files up to 32-bit/384kHz as well as DSD 64/128/256, meaning there shouldn’t be anything you won’t be able to play.

While the Artera Play looks to the future, the Stereo looks back, picking up a bit of sonic know-how with the latest iteration of the company’s Current Dumping topology. First introduced on the Quad 405 in the ’70s, Current Dumping is ultimately a way of combining the sonic purity of Class A amplification with the greater efficiency of Class AB. The aim is to produce a relatively compact, cool-running power amp that is capable of both power and finesse in spades.

Quad has been generous with its connections, which include a USB-B input for use with a computer

We use XLR cables to hook up the two components and then connect the Artera system to our reference ATC SCM50 speakers to see if Quad has managed it. We try a CD first and set about deciding what filter to use from a menu hidden under a long press of the remote’s ‘prog’ button. There is a choice of Fast, Smooth, Narrow or Wide – Fast is the default setting and is said to preserve the transient nature of the music, Wide is a ‘clean’ sound recommended for high sample-rate files, Narrow purportedly typifies industry standard characteristics with high jitter tolerance, while Smooth is recommended for use with acoustic recordings, owing to its natural, open sound. We listen to all four and settle on Wide as our favourite balance, even for CD-quality files. 'Fast' comes a close second, with a touch more drive and bite to its presentation, but can feel a bit unrelenting, particularly with more considered music.

Down to Earth We play a CD of the Gladiator soundtrack, and skip to Earth – a mournful song that comes in the movie after Maximus has just seen all his family murdered. Immediately it’s obvious that the Artera duo is capable of real size and scale – the available volume is massive, and it easily fills our testing room with a rich, wellbalanced sound. No part of the frequency range is emphasised or forward, making for the even-handed, neutral sound that Quad is well known for.


FIRST TEST

Viewed together, the elegant Quad units manage successfully to blend retro and modern design There’s a natural tonality to its sound too – instruments have real depth and believability in their character, and there’s a strong sense of separation. Even as more instruments join the arrangement, there is enough space in the presentation to give each one room to breathe and grow.

Confidence and composure Even in something as complex as Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring, the Artera duo is able to stay organised and composed, keeping a handle on the huge variety of sounds and tempos with a good degree of skill. There’s real solidity and confidence here too – sound is a touch leaner across the analogue inputs, but it’s otherwise a consistent character no matter your source. What the Artera duo doesn’t convey quite so well in Earth is the real sadness in the music, the deep sense of loss that is so apparent on more insightful kit, and that really connects and draws you in to the piece. This comes down not only to detail levels, which certainly leave us wanting, but also in how the music is all tied together. While the music's individual parts are well judged and realised, the overall presentation doesn’t prove quite as talented, and it lacks some rhythmic precision and dynamic expressiveness too.

The neat, fully numbered remote allows direct access to CD tracks

We connect our streamer to one of the analogue inputs and opt for something with more aggression to see how the Artera handles it. We play Black Skinhead by Kanye West and are impressed with not only the amount of bass grunt on offer here, but also the level of control the Artera keeps over it. Big, bold drum kicks hit with a decent amount of punch, while there’s plenty of clarity in the midrange for West’s manic vocals to shine. Once again though, the presentation in the end just falls short. This is a passionfilled rebel song, but that gets lost in translation. We don’t feel the anger and frustration in West’s voice or the music rising up in support as we know it’s supposed to.

rhythmic diffidence leave it sounding quite uninvolved and uninterested. That’s never good, certainly not at nearly £3000. If you want big sound and functionality from a small system, the Quad Artera Play and Stereo could be worth a look but for us, it’s not quite the love story we’d hoped for.

A new approach

VERDICT A heavily featured source unit that oozes design flair, but it lacks the insight and dynamism we crave

We switch speakers to see if we can inject a bit more life into proceedings, changing over to a pair of Tannoy Revolution XT6Fs. It’s a better match for sure, their more forward character adding a bit of the missing drive and enthusiasm to the Artera duet, but it doesn’t change the way music all hangs together, which still feels lacking. It makes it hard to fall truly in love with the Artera as we'd like. Break a song down into its individual parts and the Artera does a lot right, but bring it all back together and those ungenerous details levels and the

says

ARTERA PLAY CD PREAMP RATING ★★★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

ARTERA STEREO POWER AMP RATING ★★★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A genuine powerhouse with weight and balance in good measure, but its sound lacks the ability to really draw us in

www.whathifi.com 27


FIRST TEST

Panasonic TX-65DX902B | 4K television | £3200

“Panasonic ought to be proud of this TV” FOR Stunning definition; good sound; Firefox OS

AGAINST You’ll need a very wide rack

★★ ★ ★ ★

Panasonic seems very enthusiastic right now. It was first out of the gates with a UHD Blu-ray player, and has now released its flagship 2016 TV ahead of the competition. We can’t blame the company for getting a bit excited. If you’ve made something good you want to show it off, and that’s definitely the case here because the TX-65DX902B is really good. Panasonic ought to be proud. It can handle 4K Ultra HD resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR), but the DX902 also meets the stringent criteria for UHD Premium and THX certification.

When the fight starts, the Panasonic remains composed. Electro’s bolts of lightning can be blindingly bright and yet it doesn't affect the ability to illustrate the dark blue uniform of a policeman on the ground. The dynamic range is high, and the picture is all the more dramatic for it. Do watch those settings though. As this panel has a peak brightness of well over a thousand nits – one nit roughly equals the glow of a candle – you really don’t need this

colours on Panasonic’s stunning TX-65CZ952B OLED TV. What you get is lush. The colours are rich, with solidity and a subtlety of shading that gives objects the convincing sense of depth we normally associate only with the very best screens. Skin-tones are convincing and people actually look like people. We feel you need a UHD Blu-ray player to make the most of this TV, but don’t consider it compulsory. We are also impressed by its

Spot dodgy CGI We hook the DX902 to Panasonic’s own DMP-UB900 UHD Blu-ray player, the best consumer picture source available right now, and the DX902 just laps it up. We stick on a UHD Blu-ray of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the definition is indeed, ultra high, with all the fine detail you can ask for. It's apparent Dane Dehaan’s hair is a lot greasier than Andrew Garfield’s. Close-ups effortlessly reveal the fine texture of Spidey’s outfit – the webbing pattern and the fabric underneath. Filmmakers are going to have to step it up a bit, because it just became a whole lot easier to spot dodgy makeup and CGI. HDR? Piece of cake. This is a bright panel with excellent local dimming, and contrast is extreme when necessary. Panasonic uses an innovative 'honeycomb' structure to control backlighting. The idea is to confine light to where it is meant to go and prevent leakage into other areas. This lets the TV balance deep blacks with bright whites, without one compromising the other.

“The flagship fight has begun and Panasonic has come out swinging. The TX-65DX902 is a formidable TV, and further evidence that the company is making a serious comeback” thing on maximum brightness in a home setting. With HDR content we reckon you could get away with 70-80 per cent in a bright room, or 50-60 per cent in the dark. We expect nice colour balance from Panasonic, and we are not disappointed. It certainly helps that Panasonic has again brought in Mike Sowa, the Hollywood colourist who worked on Oblivion and who was responsible for the tuning the lovely

non-HDR performance during a 4K Netflix stream. You lose the wide colour gamut and the contrast, but it’s still a capable picture with impressive sharpness. Then there’s Full HD content on Blu-ray and on Freeview. This Panasonic is an adept upscaler, adding little noise while doing a good job with colours and contrast. It’s only when we step down to standard definition that the picture gets noticeably fuzzy.

Panasonic isn’t as worried about the slimness of its TVs, allowing for some proper speakers – and better sound

IN DETAIL...

Lots of nits We watch the scene where Spider-Man fights Electro in Times Square at night: even before it starts, the DX902 does a good job juggling the darkness with light. The chapter begins with a shot of downtown Manhattan, and bright city lights have no problem punching through inky blacks. Darkness in the crowds is capably juxtaposed against the bright billboards.

28 www.whathifi.com

The DX902 is as well connected as you’d expect from a flagship model, including four HDMI ports

Two remotes are included: one regular and one easy-to-use ‘smart’ remote that invites you to swipe

The TV leans back a little on the stand – a safety feature that stops it from tipping forwards


FIRST TEST

A note on 3D, if you’re a supporter: the DX902 is 3D-compatible so you won’t need to throw out your collection of 3D Blu-rays. It uses an active shutter system, but sadly the TV does not ship with the glasses. You’ll have to buy them separately.

KEY FEATURES

4K

Lean machine Unlike its rivals, Panasonic doesn't put much emphasis on the slimness of its TV. The TX-65DX902B isn't exactly chunky, but it’s not the wafer-thin approach that LG and Sony seem to be going for. This has allowed Panasonic to put some proper speakers in, and as a result the sound is a lot bigger and richer than we expect from TVs these days. This is certainly a smart-looking TV. It’s perhaps not as eye-catching as its rivals, but the bezel is slim and barely distracts from the big screen. Panasonic has always opted for sturdiness over outright aesthetics, and the screen is reassuringly built to a high standard, with a sturdy stand. Curiously, the set leans back a little on the stand, but it doesn't affect the picture quality. Apparently it’s a safety feature, to stop it from tipping forwards – just as well because it weighs a whopping 42.5kg.

65in SCREEN

WEIGHT 42.5kg

We’re not so keen on the stand though. Its massive arc shape means you’ll need a bench almost as wide as the TV, which at 145cm is quite hefty. Panasonic seems to be of the opinion that everybody has those long and low racks made by a certain Swedish flat-pack furniture company. The DX902 is as well connected as you’d expect for a flagship model. You get four HDMI terminals, all ready for 4K at 60/50p with HDCP 2.2. There are also three USB ports (one USB 3.0), an SD card slot and digital optical output. On the software front, Firefox OS makes a welcome return as Panasonic's smart interface. Firefox was one of the more streamlined and well-designed of 2015's interfaces, and made using Panasonic 4K TVs a delight. It is a neat and intuitive operating system which divides everything into three categories: Live TV, Apps and Devices. You can ‘pin’ apps and channels for quicker access. App support is excellent: you get Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, plus all of the UK’s main catch-up apps. Operation is swift, although still not as slick as LG’s multi-tasking WebOS offering.

Two remotes come in the box: a regular one and a ‘smart’ one that invites you to swipe. It’s one of the least fiddly smart remotes we’ve seen, although we still find ourselves sticking to the traditional wand. The flagship fight has begun, and Panasonic has come out swinging. The TX-65DX902 is a formidable TV that will be hard to beat, and further evidence that the company is making a serious comeback. If you are after a great big TV to do 4K and HDR the justice they deserve, you need to look at this.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT With its lovely contrast and lush colours, Panasonic’s 2016 flagship is a stunning TV it can rightly be proud of

www.whathifi.com 29


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INSIDER

INSIDER

A TYPE OF PUBLIC ADDRESS Guy Fountain’s electrical rectifier used tantalum and lead alloy – and so Tannoy was born

The Prestige speaker range, in its many forms, helped establish Tannoy worldwide


INSIDER

In the league of household names, Tannoy is right up there. As the company marks a major birthday, we trace its history

O

nly a small percentage of

brands ever have the linguistic momentum to make it into the dictionary. Let’s see: Biro. Hoover. Kleenex. None is an audio company, because there is only one brand synonymous with speakers. That’s Tannoy, which is 90 this year. As we review some of the company’s newest speakers in this issue (see page 16), it seems an appropriate time to look back at its journey. Tannoy has kindly given us access to its archive of documents, the comprehensiveness of which can only indicate one thing: pride.

Finding an identity Tannoy wasn’t always Tannoy. It was the Tulsemere Manufacturing Company in 1926, when broadcasting was in its infancy and the first talking film had yet to be shown. Radio sets needed huge batteries, which in turn needed huge chargers. Enter one Guy R Fountain, who came up with a new type of electrical rectifier with the aim of making home-friendly chargers. This did rather well, and Fountain founded a company named after the two metals used in the rectifier: Tantalum and lead alloy. The Tannoy trademark first appeared in 1928 and quickly became associated with public-address systems. They even made it into the House of Commons. During the war years Tannoy also provided PA systems to the Ministry of Defence and RAF airfields. WWII films were a golden PR opportunity, as were the victory celebrations at Buckingham Palace, where Tannoys were used to announce the end of the war. All of this paved the way for the Dual Concentric speaker, invented in 1948. It had a tweeter set deep inside the centre of a woofer for time alignment – a design still used to this day. It was originally intended for microphone measurement but the speakers ended up being picked up for use at Decca’s FFRR studios. Then EMI ordered some for Abbey Road.

days, speakers are slimming down and getting prettier, (yes they are). Tim Lount is vice-president of sales and marketing at Tannoy. He has been with the company for 27 years and we don’t know anyone better suited to talking us through how it has changed, and how it has kept going for so long. “Audio performance has always been a given throughout the Tannoy speaker range. One element that has changed dramatically over the years, however, is the aesthetic design of loudspeakers. “The demand from consumers, especially in the more ‘mainstream’ hi-fi speaker market, is good looks, and consumers are increasingly demanding when it comes to judging finish quality. “Tannoy has always made performance and functionality the primary criteria when designing a loudspeaker, but we have had to rise to the challenge of cosmetic appeal and exceptional fit and finish to strongly compete in a very competitive market.

The move into cosmetics “This cosmetic demand runs from our entry-level models right through the range. Even our ‘traditional’ appearance high-end Prestige series had a facelift a couple of years ago, adding visual improvements to the cabinet trim and greater attention to detail.” We should add, at this point, that not everybody is as sensible as we Brits. Tannoy is hugely popular in Japan, where they have even less living space, yet a clothing shop has opened that dedicates one floor to British subculture – and a colossal pair of Westminster Royals. It provides a measure of Tannoy’s influence around the world. Lount continues: “Tannoy has a huge fan base around the world. This is across all sectors of our business –

commercial install (shopping malls, airports, pubs, clubs etc), recording studios and, of course, in the consumer markets of hi-fi and home theatre. “The Japanese and many countries in Asia are great admirers of the Tannoy brand. But whereas it always tended to be our Prestige series that was talked about, in recent years we have seen substantial growth of our entry-level products and mid-market models.” But what about the next 90 years? The consumer audio market has changed dramatically in the last few years. Categories have sprung up to challenge the traditional stereo way.

Into the future Not only are speakers getting slimmer, they are becoming more portable, and there’s an increasing demand for wireless connectivity. Bluetooth is more popular than ever, and multi-room networked systems are rapidly becoming the norm. How does a very traditional company stand against such change, Tim? “I guess that Tannoy may have appeared slow to ‘join in’ on products such as active speakers, Bluetooth, multi-room etc. We have tended to cater for the hi-fi enthusiasts’ market. As Tannoy is now part of the larger Music Group we have access to an enhanced technical resource and will develop new products within the wider consumer audio market. Watch this space!” Happy 90th birthday, Tannoy. Just don’t make another PSP speaker. F O R A L L T H E L AT E S T C E S N E W S A N D P R O D U C T S , V I S I T W W W.W H AT H I F I . C O M

Tannoy’s early success led to a rapid expansion in manufacturing and location work

Domestication Eventually, Tannoy entered the home. Those first speakers were unashamed beasts with drivers of at least 10 inches, and they would dominate the room. Until the ’80s, it was all about sound quality: aesthetics be damned. At least for a while. These

www.whathifi.com 33


INSIDER

INSIDER

TOP FIVE LAUNCHES

1

Straight to the top of your wishlist

1 ATC SCM10SE £3491 The SCM10SE speakers celebrate the 70th birthday of ATC founder Billy Woodman. They are a reimagining of the SCM10 monitor from 1990 and will be limited to 70 pairs. Behind the piano-blue finish you’ll find all-new drivers and a newly designed crossover. http://whf.cm/ATCSCM10SE

3

2 2 Sony VPL-HW45ES €2200 Sony’s new compact Full HD projector features the company’s Reality Creation technology and SXRD panel. It supports 3D technology and is claimed to deliver “better brightness, contrast and resolution than the VPL-HW40ES”. http://whf.cm/SonyHW45ES

3 Cabasse Stream BASE £450 Cabasse has entered the soundbase market. What sets the Stream BASE apart? The ability to connect to a home network and stream audio from music-streaming services and DLNA devices, for a start. http://whf.cm/StreamBASE

4 Atmo Sfera platterless turntable from €895 Audio Deva has created the Atmo Sfera platterless turntable. Why, you may ask? The thinking is if there’s no platter there, there’s nothing for vibration and interference to flow through. It’s available to pre-order on Kickstarter. http://whf.cm/AtmoSfera

4

5

34 www.whathifi.com

5 Yamaha RX-V81 from £350 Yamaha’s 2016 range of RX-V81 AV receivers will all support 4K HDR content, while all networked models will support Yamaha’s MusicCast technology. The top three models will also support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. http://whf.cm/YamahaRXV81


    

 

                     

                                                                                


SOUNDBARS/SOUNDBASES

D N U O S ? ound s in s y n in g to t nic steroid ase n i n e of list some so or soundb p u d Fe r telly oundbar u o y Give ape of a s the sh

WHAT’S ON TEST? JBL Boost TV, £170 Edifier CineSound B7, £250 Canton DM100, £500 Geneva Model Cinema, £550 Dali Kubik One, £800 Raumfeld Sound Deck, £800


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www.whathifi.com 37


SOUNDBARS/SOUNDBASES

NOT A BAD SHOUT AT

ALL

JBL Boost TV £170 FOR Compact build; engaging dynamics; tonally balanced

AGAINST Rivals have more bass; not very expansive

Nowadays there’s no excuse for having dire TV sound. If you don’t have the room for a surround-sound package, you simply look to a soundbar (or soundbase) solution. But what if you can’t accommodate a bulky box or external subwoofer? Before now, we might have shrugged our shoulders and said ‘tough’. But then here comes this über-compact JBL, 38cm wide, fitting comfortably inside the waistband of a 32in telly.

While the dual bass ports bookending the chassis are handy for picking it up, their primary purpose is to lend a helping hand to the bass drivers.

Backed in black Essentially, it’s a soundbar-cum-wireless speaker, with optical and 3.5mm inputs (cables for both are included) and Bluetooth connectivity. But while JBL has downsized and scaled back on price here, it hasn’t reined in the features. There’s SoundShift technology, which automatically takes over music playback when it detects a Bluetooth-paired device, so you can get your fix without switching inputs. JBL Connect lets it pair with another Boost TV or a Flip 3, Pulse 2 or Xtreme wireless speaker too. In keeping with JBL’s design language, it’s essentially an elongated, capsuleshaped version of the Flip 3, solidly built and wrapped in tightly woven material. Unlike other JBL products, this one comes only in black.

Beyond its dimensions It might be obvious from its diminutive size, but the Boost TV will hardly knock your socks off beneath a big telly or in a sizable room. When it comes to spread of sound and bass levels, it would be the runt in most soundbar circles. But the JBL does its best to push sound beyond its puny dimensions, and it shows, its soundfield readily exceeding the physical parameters of the 42in screen we pair it with. Just be aware that in sonically dense scenes – rowdy crowds or battle scenes, say – the JBL’s soundfield can sound a bit congested. Its low end is hardly timid: there’s clunk behind iron doors, texture to chugging jeeps, and an assured presence to the soundtrack’s drubbing drums. Playing Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the Edifier CineSound B7 shows it can catapult sound much further, and its external sub gets under the ape’s stomps and the thud of collapsing buildings more convincingly too. The JBL compensates elsewhere: tonal balance, for one (goodbye tinny sound),

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

INPUTS: OPTICAL, 3.5mm

DIMENSIONS: 8 X 38 X 12cm

dynamics another. It has the range and elasticity to communicate the peaks and troughs of the fiery, pounding instrumentals, and the drive and agility to keep them charging vividly alongside the on-screen action. Mids are crisp and clear, with gunshots and chimps’ cries dense yet piercing. At higher volumes the Boost TV can feel the pressure, though, hardening up a little. Voices don’t need any encouragement, all confidently projected with clarity and insight. There’s conviction in Caesar’s voice, reassurance in our protagonist’s, and echo to Gary Oldman’s delivery as he speaks through the PA. While the JBL Boost TV’s expanse of sound and low-end power are second best to a lot of larger budget soundbar rivals, it offers a considerable improvement over many when it comes to dynamics, detail and clarity – and for that, £170 seems reasonable. If you’re tight on space or have a compact set-up, this soundbar isn’t a bad shout at all.

says

RATING ★★ ★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

The Boost TV is a capsule-shaped version of JBL’s Flip 3, but this one comes only in black

38 www.whathifi.com

BUILD

VERDICT The JBL Boost TV is a talented soundbar-cum-wireless speaker that will suit anyone short on space and budget


YOU CAN DO BETTER

Edifier CineSound B7 £250 FOR Wide and spacious soundfield; discreet aesthetic

AGAINST Inexpressive dynamics; bass a little soft

Unlike children in the days of old, soundbars should be heard and not seen. Although if tellies could somehow stuff beefy drivers into their anorexic frames, we probably wouldn’t need them at all. Edifier is clearly in agreement because, despite its CineSound B7 comprising a metre-long bar and sizable external subwoofer, its minimalist aesthetic couldn’t be any more discreet.

New to soundbars and hoping it’s a simple case of running a cable between your TV and the Edifier? Then you’re in luck. You can connect via the bar’s aux, RCA, optical or coaxial inputs. HDMI inputs are missing, but that’s more or less the trend for budget – and even midrange – soundbars now. It is worth dialling down the bass levels, a process that can be done manually on the sub itself. Turned up too much, it rumbles to the point of distraction. On the remote there are three sound modes: Movie, which favours bass; News, which amplifies the midrange; and Music, which we find the most focused and balanced.

Dialling down the bass It’s certainly smart enough. Traditionally clothed and no chunkier than a giant Toblerone, the sleek prism-shaped bar is simply decorated with just a small Edifier logo. At one end, a panel features buttons for power, input and volume – though that’s also where the flat, and rather dinky, remote comes in. The B7 looks very similar to the company’s B3 model from last year, but with the addition of a wireless subwoofer. Apart from another box to house, that adds a 20cm woofer to bring the sonic grunt alongside the bar’s four 7cm midrange drivers and pair of 20mm tweeters. It should automatically pair with the bar when fired up but, if it doesn’t, sticking a pin into a connect button at the rear usually does the trick. Physically, the bar tucks just inside the width of a 50in telly, and at only 8cm tall (and deep) is unlikely to encroach on the bottom of your TV screen. Sticking it on the wall is an alternative – there are brackets on the bar – but either way the subwoofer is best parked on the floor as close as possible to the TV for best integration.

Making itself known At £250, the Edifier has a bigger job on its hands than simply raising the performance of a flatscreen TV. It begins well, offering up a broad soundfield that’s far wider than that of the JBL Boost TV, and pretty spacious too. Volume levels will satisfy even the hard-of-hearing – stick it in a decentsized room and it will make itself known. The bar and subwoofer work together to deliver a presentation that’s integrated across the frequencies. There’s as much bass as you can handle, which bodes well for the concert footage in the Rolling Stones’ documentary Shine A Light. The CineSound B7 gives the electronics and drums weight, substance and a general low-end presence that a TV speaker couldn’t. It’s a little on the soft side, though. Explosions in Furious 7 don’t sound quite as punchy as we’d like.

The CineSound’s external subwoofer is best parked on the floor, as close as possible to the TV

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

DIMENSIONS: 8 X 100 X 8CM

WALL-MOUNTABLE

With dynamics struggling to rise to the occasion, revving cars aren’t energetic or exciting-sounding enough to send a shiver down the spine of a petrolhead. Not only is the JBL Boost TV clearer and more dynamically expressive, we think forking out an extra £80 over the price of this Edifier for the Q Acoustics Media 4 (£330) is a small price to pay for its greater level of transparency and solidity. Bottom line? You can do better.

says

RATING ★★★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The Edifier CineSound B7 will give you an improvement over a typical TV sound, but it needs to be more engaging

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SOUNDBARS/SOUNDBASES

NOT FOR THE EVERYMA

N

Canton DM100 £500 ★★ ★ ★ ★

FOR Fluid and expressive dynamics; deep, taut bass

AGAINST Size won’t suit all; treble a little too bright

Canton has been at the vanguard for quality soundbases since they became ‘a thing’, so we have come to expect big things from its new models – and not only in the literal sense. So we are surprised by the DM100, which is, to steal a Death Cab for Cutie lyric, wide enough for a marching band to march out of.

streaming onboard, as well as two digital inputs (optical and coaxial), an analogue input and subwoofer output. Similar too are the blue LED text display and remote control, which adjusts volume, input, bass/treble settings, surround and stereo modes, and Bluetooth pairing. There are more functions than the sparse layout of buttons suggests. Holding the ‘sound’ button for three seconds enters an extended menu where you can adjust lip sync, subwoofer output and EQ depending on whether the DM100 is in a rack, next to a wall-mounted TV, or above your TV.

For the larger telly Canton’s 72cm-wide DM75, designed for ‘the larger telly’, wasn’t plus-size enough, so the DM100 takes that to almost a metre. It may seem like overkill, but when you consider that more and more large premium tellies have impractically wide stands (the Panasonic 65DX902B and LG UF950V, for example, stretch to their 145cm width), it’s not a bad idea. The DM100 exists alongside the new versions of the smaller DM55 (£330) and DM75 Glass (£400), all of which now have smart glass tops. Despite its size, it’s easy to see our black sample (it comes in silver too) as an extension of our TV rack thanks to its sleek, minimalist design. It doesn’t waste space either. There are two tweeters, four midrange drivers and four downfiring subwoofers, its built-in amplification serving up 200W of power. Like its siblings, there’s aptX Bluetooth

KEY FEATURES

APTX BLUETOOTH

INPUTS: OPTICAL, COAXIAL, 3.5mm

Soundbase with agile hips The DM100 is exactly what we expect: expansive, powerful, solid and dynamic – all things you need to make the most of Jurassic World. Animal noises and the rustling of leaves in the enclosure are layered with a real sense of texture and detail, not to mention space. While it throws out a big expanse of sound, it takes care to ensure it’s well integrated. Chris Pratt’s voice is expressive and direct as he yells out commands to the velociraptors, even if the Geneva Model Cinema brings more midrange richness and clarity to the projection. Anything in

DIMENSIONS: 7 X 100 X 33cm

the upper treble region – splintering glass, say – can push the Canton’s top end ever so slightly over the wrong side of the line, but it’s never uncomfortable. When things get hairy, the Canton’s revealing dynamics come to the fore. It doesn’t hold back in the final Indominus Rex versus T-Rex showdown – crashes are forceful, swipes have impact, and the rapturous score comes through with power and purpose. It’s not without subtlety either – there’s plenty of gear changes and finesse to proceedings. The built-in bass drivers are capable of producing more bass than the Geneva – enough to put off investing in a separate subwoofer, or even turning the Canton’s bass levels past +1. That taut low-end is deployed with control and precision as it thrusts its agile hips to the bassline of Billie Jean in Michel Jackson’s This Is It. The Canton DM100 may not be a soundbase for the everyman, but for anyone after a significant audio upgrade for a TV that warrants a large base, we think it’s well worth considering.

says

RATING ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

The Canton is a large soundbase and will deliver a significant upgrade to your TV’s sound

40 www.whathifi.com

BUILD

VERDICT If your TV’s impractical size has put you off investing in a soundbase, the talented DM100 may well change that


EX THE BEST SOUNDBASE

PERIENCE

Geneva Model Cinema £550 FOR Big, authoritative sound; clear dialogue; stylish design

AGAINST There are no HDMI connections

We’ve always been fond of Geneva products, so were not wholly surprised when the company’s first soundbase won an Award. With fine soundbases out there for considerably less – the £350 Canton DM55 springs to mind – it might be hard to see the benefit in spending extra on the Geneva. But after a few minutes in its company, it’s easy to see where the money has been spent.

commands. It adjusts itself automatically to suit the room’s lighting conditions so it can always be seen clearly. It has become a bit of habit for soundbases to be pretty basic on their inputs. Sure enough. there are no HDMI ports available here. Instead there’s one each of optical and coaxial, a single pair of analogue ins and a 3.5mm jack. There’s also Bluetooth A2DP for streaming music from a phone, tablet or laptop.

Superior build quality For a start, the build quality is a notch above its cheaper rivals. A stylish matching metal grille adorns the front of the unit, while a simple silver logo and a number of touch-sensitive controls sit along the top. A remote is included too, offering volume and tone controls, input selection, power, EQ settings and a Bluetooth pairing button. It’s well built and clearly labelled, plus the buttons have a reassuring click to them with every push. Behind the grille there are five drivers in three acoustic chambers – four 50mm tweeter/mid-range drivers and one 13cm woofer, driven by a total 120W of power. There’s also a handy LCD display hidden behind the grille, which displays information to support your remote

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

LCD DISPLAY

BLUETOOTH

Transform your TV sound Settle in for the high-octane final battle scene in Fury and you realise the scale the Geneva is capable of. It’s a big, wide sound from a box that measures just 70cm across, delivering a hugely authoritative sound. In one breath it’s powerful and full-bodied, the next it’s subtle and considered. Dynamically, it puts much of the competition to shame. While the Canton DM100 has more bass power to get behind explosions like an external subwoofer would, the Geneva approaches Fury with poise and confidence, attacking the low-end blasts of guns and grenades with a rich, detailed tone, while still remaining nimble enough on its feet to deliver the tension in this demanding soundtrack.

DIMENSIONS: 10 X 70 X 35cm

The midrange is open and spacious, and there’s stunning clarity to dialogue, filling voices with more depth and texture than the Canton DM100. There’s no thinness at the top end either, which further shows up the Canton’s slight wobble in that part of the frequency range. Even at volume the Geneva remains composed, with a clear treble that isn’t put under pressure by the constant zinging of gunfire. Detail levels are top-notch too, and we’re impressed at the precision with which the Geneva places sounds in its soundfield. It brings together most of our favourite parts of the competition into one single soundbar, and doesn’t compromise at any point. The whole experience, from dynamics to detail to tonal balance, is a notch above the rest, and though it’s among the priciest soundbases we’ve tested, you’ll hear the difference every time you use it. The Geneva Model Cinema will transform your TV sound unlike any other we’ve heard. An easy five stars.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

The inputs on the Geneva are pretty basic – you won’t find any HDMI ports for example

BUILD

VERDICT The Geneva Model Cinema may be pricey, but it’s also the best soundbase experience money can buy right now

www.whathifi.com 41


SOUNDBARS/SOUNDBASES

GORGEOUS COMPLETE

PACKAGE

Dali Kubik One £800 FOR Involving, engaging sound; good connections

AGAINST Nothing of note

Dali has come up with some great stereo and surround speakers over the years, so we were unsurprised to hear the Danish company had moved into soundbars. Dali says the Kubik One is not exactly a soundbar, more a system in its own right. But whatever the appropriate nomenclature, we think it’s brilliant. Award-winningly brilliant, in fact.

– voices are detailed, maintaining their textures, but never sounding harsh. Dali hasn’t just focused on the sound – the exterior is just as appealing. The removable grilles come in red, white or black, or you can choose from six others ranging from purple to lime green. Under the fancy exterior, a single piece of aluminium forms the chassis – designed to keep walls thin yet sturdy enough to suppress unwanted resonances. It’s heavy and solidly built, with a finish worthy of that pricetag. But this is a serious bit of kit. You’ll also find two 25mm soft-dome tweeters and two 13cm wood-fibre cones. There’s a fair offering of connections, including two optical, and one analogue RCA. We’re pleased to see a micro USB input too, which means you can hardwire a Mac or PC in. If you have hi-res music stored on there, the soundbar can handle files up to 24-bit/96kHz.

Attention-seeking We dive straight into Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s hard not to notice the size of the sound. It’s a wide, spacious soundstage, giving jets and spaceships ample room to manoeuvre. Even the more hectic scenes don’t sound crowded. There’s ample low-end heft to thicken the sound, but it’s nicely controlled. Add good timing and agility and you have yourself a punchy, dynamic soundbar. Whether you watch a film or listen to music, the Kubik One’s greatest strength is its ability to seize your attention. It’s a thoroughly involving experience – we don’t tend to expect this from soundbars. It’s accurate too, and that’s what separates the Dalis from the Raumfelds. While the Sounddeck lacks precision and the solidity to make things sound exciting, the Dali manages to ping effects around meticulously with impressive clarity. It also makes the most of speech

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

APTX BLUETOOTH

24-BIT/192KHZ

SAMPLING RATE

to adjust the amount of bass depending on the position of the soundbar. The ‘Neutral’ position offers the least bass, and is best when the soundbar is near a wall. There are keyhole-type mounts at the back, in case you want to stick it on a wall. At the other extreme is ‘Bass Boost’, which is best for filling larger rooms (or blowing the roof off smaller ones). The halfway point is ‘Bass Enhance’, which provides a balanced sound in our set-up.

Tall tales MICRO USB INPUT

Off the wall For wireless input there’s Bluetooth, and the Kubik One handles aptX, which means you get higher-quality wireless streaming provided you use a compatible device. A sub-out socket lets you hook up your own subwoofer if you want, but you shouldn’t have to. There’s also a switch

Your TV will need to be tall to avoid having the bottom blocked off. At 16cm tall, the Dali might justify its own shelf. But once in place, it’s easy to use. Power, input and volume buttons are at the top of the soundbar, and on the remote. But whether it’s a soundbar or a sound system, the Dali Kubik One is a resounding success. The design and features are impressive and we love the way it sounds. This is a gorgeous, complete package.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

The Kubik One is a serious bit of kit and gives an Awardwinningly brilliant performance too

42 www.whathifi.com

BUILD

VERDICT With its wide, spacious soundstage, the Kubik One is a superb performer. It sets the standard at this price


NOT A STANDOUT PERF

ORMER

Raumfeld Sounddeck £800 FOR Network features; exceptional build and finish

AGAINST Lacks dynamic insight; not exciting; pricey

When it comes to markets as saturated as TV sound-boosters, Raumfeld clearly knows the importance of making a killer first impression. Its Sounddeck soundbase – the sibling to the slightly pricier soundbar – is a real head-turner. It is made of solid stuff, and sturdy enough to provide a perfect pedestal for any TV stand within the deck’s 73cm width and 41cm depth dimensions.

are up and running in a few minutes. It’s intuitive enough, and lets you access apps and files (up to CD-quality) locally and on NAS drives, as well as build playlists and perform volume controls.

Left on the shelf Behind the black cloth grille hugging the front and sides are two side-mounted and four front-facing 7cm drivers. Two downfiring 13cm subwoofers supply the grunt from underneath and, at the rear, there are HDMI, optical, USB and RCA inputs as well as an ethernet port (and wi-fi) to hook it up to your network. The Raumfeld Sounddeck supports streaming from a host of music services including Spotify, Tidal and TuneIn Radio. Google Cast, Qobuz and Deezer are due to arrive later. While that’s good news for avid streamers, it means that Bluetooth, a common tick-box for soundbases, has been left on the shelf. To make the most of the network features, the app is a good place to start. Follow the on-screen steps, using the remote and Sounddeck controls, and you

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

WI-FI

Firing far and wide Raumfeld’s Wellenfeld Technology uses digital signal processing to create a broad, ‘encompassing’ soundfield, which is adaptable with four playback modes: Stereo, Arena, Theatre and Voice. The former offers the most tonally balanced listen. Sadly, it’s just not a competitive one. But let’s start with the positives. The Raumfeld kicks out sound far and wide to the corners of a room, the two side-firing drivers doing their bit to create an expansive spread. There’s the heft and solidity that you simply don’t get from standard telly speakers, and a good deal more punch and volume too. But the problem is that plenty of sound boosters also meet their promises, and in the face of competition the Sounddeck doesn’t do nearly enough to justify its higher pricetag. In Edge Of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, there’s plenty of low-end heft as the aircraft chugs along to battle, but it’s crudely delivered, with both the Geneva Model

SPOTIFY CONNECT & TIDAL

HDMI INPUT

Cinema (£550), and the price-matching Dali Kubik One, delivering more detail. The spaciousness and precision demonstrated by the Dali, necessary to separate information and present it in cohesive, articulate layers, is missing in the Sounddeck. Detail is lost in a presentation that feels mashed together. Gunfire doesn’t slice through the soundfield as it should, there’s a lack of impact as metal suits collide, and dynamics feel largely sat-upon. There isn’t that sense of urgency or excitement to the soundtrack, nor the punch to get properly stuck into action sequences. While midrange projection is fine, the Sounddeck can’t quite get its vocal cords around the sarcastic expression of the sergeant. We’d like insight to extend up to the restrained treble. Look past its first impression – formed by good looks and a desirable spec-sheet – and the Raumfeld Sounddeck doesn’t have much to fall back upon. At £800, it needs to be a standout performer, which it isn’t – even against rivals half its price.

says

RATING ★★ ★

★ ★

SOUND FEATURES

First impressions of the Raumfeld are good, but sadly its performance doesn’t match up

BUILD

VERDICT Despite having ambitious features and good looks, you can get better performance for half the money

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TEST WINNER

JBL Boost TV £170 ★★★★ ★

Geneva Model Cinema £550 ★★★★ ★

Dali Kubik One £800 ★★★★ ★

S

oundbar or soundbase? Deciding between the two is largely down to logistics; Do you want something underneath your TV or in front of it? After all, both pursue the same goal: to give movies clarity, newsreaders authority, streamed music the tunefulness it deserves. In other words, everything that your telly can’t offer on its own. You’re spoilt for choice in either department, and there’s plenty to recommend in this test.

Bar vs base rivalry Soundbars are up first. JBL has a solid track record here and, determined not to buck the trend, the compact JBL Boost TV proves a nifty performer for small rooms and set-ups with its clear, dynamic sound and wireless speaker alter ego. While the Edifier, on the other hand, suits a larger room with its spacious, wide-reaching sound, it’s without the dynamism, solidity or low-end precision offered up by the

44 www.whathifi.com

Award-winning Q Acoustics Media 4 (£330) which, although pricier, is much better value. On to soundbases, and this bout of the boxes is a close one. Having impressed on its arrival last summer, the Geneva Model Cinema continues its dominant, class-leading reign despite the Canton DM100’s best efforts. The metre-wide Canton is a blessing for those that may have previously ruled out a soundbase because of their TV’s unwieldy stand. It flings out the same compellingly solid, dynamic and precise sound that runs in the family, but within a largerscale soundfield. Despite pulling up short of the Geneva’s clarity and overall insight, it’s a fine alternative. You can buy a fairly decent surround package for £800, so those ready to spend big bucks on a sound-booster are

F O R F U L L S P E C I F I C AT I O N O F T H E S E P R O D U C T S , V I S I T W W W.W H AT H I F I . C O M

likely to be doing it for space-saving reasons. This ‘bar versus ‘base rivalry isn’t much of a contest, though. While we fancy the Raumfeld for its network streaming features and gorgeous streamlined looks, it’s not nearly capable of the sonic standards set by the price-matching Dali Kubik One, or even the cheaper Geneva. It lacks its rivals’ space, dynamic flair and expression, and to our ears, is not worth the outlay.

Capable hands The Dali, however, is the test’s superstar. The daddy of soundbars grabs you by the throat with its highly involving, punchy performance, and goes the extra mile with hi-res support. An all-encompassing system like this is hard to come by, and if you have the money, spend it here. Whatever your budget and set-up, the task of transforming your TV acoustics can be left in the very capable hands of either the JBL, Canton, Geneva or Dali. Just take your pick.


SOUNDBARS/SOUNDBASES

JBL Boost TV

Edifier CineSound B7

Canton DM100

Dimensions (hwd, cm)

8 x 38 x 12

8 x 100 x 8

7 x 100 x 33

Subwoofer

No

Yes

No

Networking

No

No

No

App

No

No

No

HDMI inputs

0

0

0

Optical inputs

1

1

1

Analogue inputs

1

1

1

Ethernet

No

No

No

Geneva Model Cinema

Dali Kubik One

Raumfeld Sounddeck

Dimensions (hwd, cm)

10 x 70 x 35

16 x 98 x 10

11 x 73 x 41

Subwoofer

No

No

No

Networking

No

No

Yes

App

No

No

Yes

HDMI inputs

0

0

1

Optical inputs

1

2

1

Analogue inputs

1

1

1

Ethernet

No

No

Yes

THREE GREAT SOURCES OF SOUND

SET-TOP BOX Sky+ HD 2TB ★★ ★ ★ ★ £250 The best-value subscription service around

BLU-RAY PLAYER Panasonic DMP-BDT370 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £100 Supernatural quality at a bargain price

VIDEO STREAMING SERVICE Netflix HD ★★ ★ ★ ★ £9/month Great picture, fine sound, wide choice

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T U R N TA B L E S

Record players ruled the musical roost Before Computers – and now, After Digital, they’re flavour of the month again. These three decks reveal just why this breed is back on the up

S

o you’ve just spent six hours queuing to get into your local, usually starkly uninhabited, record shop – it’s Record Store Day so everybody has to queue, including the bloke with the keys. That means six people must leave the line before the doors can even be opened – before spending £30 on a Justin Bieber picture disc because obviously the Dylan seven-inch you actually wanted was sold before you got there. Still, you may as well have a decent turntable to play it on, yes? Well perhaps we can help. Over the next seven pages we’re pitting the Award-winning Rega RP1 against a pair of multi-talented contenders: Audio-Technica’s AT-LP5 and the Flexson VinylPlay. You’ll be diagnosed with Bieber fever before you can say What Do You Mean?

Join us on Spotify & Tidal whf.cm/playlist16 Listen to our favourite tracks every month!

46 www.whathifi.com


T U R N TA B L E S

ON THE RECORD

As well as coming up with the bright idea that was the light bulb, American inventor Thomas Edison also invented the first ‘record player’, née phonogragh, in 1877. It used a cylinder covered with tin foil (vinyl was still a way off). Unlike the earlier phonautograph, Edison’s gizmo could both record and play audio. A giant leap, we’d say.

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T U R N TA B L E S

That J-shaped arm isn’t just a retro indulgence – it’s designed to minimise tracking error

OF A TECH-SAVVY BUNDLE

EXCELLENCE

Audio Technica AT-LP5 £330 FOR Spacious soundstage; detail; dynamically expressive

AGAINST Nothing at this price

In France there is a literary prize named La Prix de la Page 112, in which books are judged exclusively on the value of their 112th page. The theory is that, though we are all made very much aware you mustn’t judge a book by its cover, by the 112th page of a story it is only the best writers who’ve yet to lose interest or give up on their reader. So now for the parallel: a turntable, like a book, cannot be judged solely nor even principally by appearance – but that is not to say it hasn’t also its own page 112.

headshell for what Audio-Technica claims is a perfect balance for its tonearm. Given such promise, it is with some haste we shake Nils Frahm’s live album Spaces from its sleeve, opting to use the onboard phono stage. Frahm titles the first track An Aborted Beginning, but it is one-and-a-half minutes in which we discover we aren’t to be disappointed. There is a great sense of the recording’s setting here, a combination of spacious soundstage and detail as the natural reverb is exposed. Further hints as to that amount of detail are present in the ringing synthesized notes and, though there rumbling lows that go undetected, there is a really nicely poised, natural balance to the sound that doesn’t want for bass.

A good feeling It isn’t necessarily build quality, either. It’s about how it feels to use, the touch of the dial to switch between rotation speeds, the weight of the tonearm and how it glides from its rest to vinyl. That attention to detail is what fills us with confidence before we even get round to listening to Audio Technica’s AT-LP5 turntable. We are expectant. One point of reference here is Rega’s Performance Pack RP1 turntable, although in reality it’s a fairly different piece of equipment. The AT-LP5 is a little dearer than the Rega and treats you to a built-in phono stage and USB output for digitising your record collection. What they do have in common is an emphasis on sonic ability. To that end you’ll notice the J-shaped tone arm, harking back to the 1960s and ’70s and engineered, says the company, to minimise tracking error. Then there’s the cartridge, an AT95EX, designed for this turntable and fitted to an AT-HS10 48 www.whathifi.com

Musical understanding Says, the first proper track after the record’s ‘false’ start, demonstrates the AT-LP5’s brilliant understanding of rhythm. Not only does that hypnotically bubbling synthesizer pattern time wonderfully, its rhythmic and dynamic emphasis allows the piece to build rather than stagnate. And on the following track, Said And Done, which opens with Frahm repeatedly playing the same piano note, the AT-LP5 is dynamically versatile enough to express the intensity of each strike of the key, allowing movement rather than mere relentlessness. Switching to an appropriate external phono stage, each aspect is evidently improved, the sound opening up further and allowing even more detail to be dug out of those grooves. Yet it is the

★★★★★ KEY FEATURES

BUILT-IN PHONO STAGE OPTIONAL USE OF EXTERNAL PHONO STAGE

AT-LP5’s overall character we enjoy so much, something that is unchanging whether using its built-in phono stage or running through something more expensive. There’s more bite than the Flexson VinylPlay offers, and we hear a step up in most respects, as well as greater precision to the sound. Sonically, the RP1 PP has the edge you’d expect from a sole-purpose turntable, but when we switch back that sheer musicality comes to the fore, and we’re more than pleased to listen for the rest of the day without missing the extra detail or dynamics.

USB OUTPUT

The right emphasis J-SHAPED TONE ARM

As well as including the extra technology many people will find extremely useful, Audio Technica has what really matters spot on. The only way, to our minds, you could improve on so comprehensive a package as this is to up your budget fairly significantly. Now you can get back to reading page 112 of all your favourite books.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT If you want a turntable you can plug straight into your amp and play, there is nothing better at this price. Fantastic


T U R N TA B L E S

An in-built phono stage, DAC and USB output make for a formidable one-box solution

EASY DOES IT

Flexson VinylPlay £250 FOR Warm, full-bodied sound; phono stage and USB output

AGAINST Some rivals better it rhythmically; plasticky feel

Attempting to read the market, for a hi-fi manufacturer, must be akin to asking a toddler what they’d like for supper. But, instead of fish-finger ice cream, you’re being told we want everything to be new and old at the same time. We want it to have an app and we want it everywhere in the house, but we also want it Instagram-ably retro, to finger through our record collection and put an album on using our hands. Got it? Well, Flexson actually appears to have got it. The VinylPlay is principally a turntable, but its built-in phono stage and analogue-to-digital converter also allows you to connect directly to powered speakers, or, as this comes from the British specialist in accessories for Sonos, a Sonos Connect to create an ideal vinyl front end for a remarkably flexible multi-room system.

Despite it being only so fleeting an operation, it’s long enough for us to be a little disappointed by the general feel of things. It isn’t that the VinylPlay is poorly machined or manufactured, but it feels like a cheap product, lightweight and plasticky. Even for only £250 we’d like something a little more tactile.

Analogue – but digital Combine that with a USB output for digitising all of your old LPs, and Flexson appears to have justifiably created a deck for “the music-streaming generation”. (It doesn’t quite have the literary counterculture chic of the Beat Generation, sure, but then Ginsberg couldn’t listen to Avicii or Taylor Swift.) Further to the VinylPlay’s credit is its convenience; when Flexson says quick start, it means it. Everything down to the correct tracking weight for the attached cartridge – simply push the balance weight as far towards the stop point as it will go – is pre-set so you can be plugging in and playing your records in no time.

★★★★ ★ KEY FEATURES

BUILT-IN PHONO STAGE

A Harvest of plenty All that is largely forgotten by the time we hear Boards Of Canada’s Midnight Harvest. Playing it through our reference amplifier and speakers, we get a sense of the rich timbres the VinylPlay is able to deliver. Despite being so geared to facilitating a digital experience, it is full of analogue body and warmth without sacrificing too much clarity or detail. The whirring synthesizers that open Reach For The Dead, for example, are satisfyingly thick yet dig out loads of the texture, giving the sound its ominous intensity. We get a nice overview of the balance as the album moves on to White Cyclosa, the low-end drone holding up a solid midrange and clean, clear treble.

Without prejudice We change over to Biffy Clyro’s jagged post-hardcore masterpiece The Vertigo Of Bliss, and it becomes apparent that the VinylPlay’s talents are indiscriminate: luscious strings and vocal harmonies benefit as much as the power and impetus of Simon Neil’s screeched vocals and fuzz-drenched guitars. But what it’s somewhat lacking, what rivals such as Rega’s RP1 PP or the Audio

USB OUTPUT

PRE-SET TRACKING WEIGHT

Technica AT-LP5 get better, is the ferocity and math-rock awkwardness – the record’s essence, in effect. It really appears to be a combination of rhythm and subtle dynamics, which leaves spikier tracks such as Bodies In Flight lacking some of that thorniness by not quite emphasising the vital beats. As a package, though, it is only a little short of its fifth star. Rega’s RP1 PP quite clearly trumps the VinylPlay sonically, but once you’ve added a similarly talented phono stage, you’re stretching your budget not insignificantly – and that’s without considering the Flexson’s USB output or the tidiness of a one-box solution. You get all that with Audio Technica’s AT-LP5, as well as a cleaner, more rhythmic sound, but you sacrifice some of the Flexson’s warmth and body. So four stars seems fair – there are compromises to be made in one area or another, but if the VinylPlay’s talents fit your needs, it comes with our hearty recommendation.

says

RATING ★★ ★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Perhaps not the best choice for those who value real bite in their sound, but most will be mightily pleased with this deck

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T U R N TA B L E S

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SO

UND

Rega RP1 Performance Pack £300 FOR Warm, expressive sound; great dynamics and timing

AGAINST Nothing at this price level

Even given Rega’s pedigree at higher prices it was still a surprise, when we first heard the RP1 in 2010, to see the company delivering such an excellent budget product. At this level it’s all about simple, effective engineering: something Rega clearly understands. The RP1 Performance Pack is about as simple as record players get. It has a plain rectangular plinth with three rubber feet. As with any turntable, careful positioning is a must if you want to get optimal results: just keep it well away from the speakers and make sure the supporting surface is rigid and all will be fine.

Sierra’s Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose, a fresh press of the 1978 album, we are met with luscious soundscapes as the piano keys land like raindrops falling in slow motion. The opening section, Music For Gymnastics, is almost glowing with the warmth offered it by the RP1, but is never in danger of sacrificing detail. This deck is more than capable of capturing the different timbres of the pianos, and the delay through which they’re filtered. And it organises them in such a way that different, though often concurrent, melodies are able to cascade in their own space while sharing enough of it to marry in this quite ethereal sonic union. These pieces of music are hardly rhythmically complex, but their rubato as well as the piano’s delay offers a subtler test in that respect. It is one the RP1 truly walks; it frames that push and pull of rhythm and tempo with incredible sensibility for a turntable at this price, timing with admirable precision to render so accurately the falling away of those filtered notes. But this is also a lesson in dynamics; its reading of rises and falls in intensity of De La Sierra’s playing really allows us to lose ourselves.

Quality parts, easily fitted The plinth carries an impressively well made main bearing and the RB 101 arm – a simplified version of the company’s highly regarded RB300 – plus a motor with a stepped pulley. This allows a manual speed change where the drive belt is moved between the pulley steps. Rega’s fine Bias 2 cartridge completes the hardware. This, plus the heavier drive belt and superior woollen mat, constitutes the ‘Performance Pack’ upgrades over the Award-winning £225 RP1. Set-up is a breeze. The cartridge is pre-fitted and the ideal counterweight position marked on the arm. Just set the bias – slightly less than two grams works for us – put the Phenolic resin (posh plastic) platter in place, and off you go. It doesn’t take long to realise the RP1 PP is a terrific performer for the money. When we begin with Jordan De La 50 www.whathifi.com

Controlled punch Changing the record to The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, we immediately experience that rhythmic drive. Whether it is the laid-back manner of Demons or the more intensely energetic Sea Of Love or Graceless, the RP1 PP has the ideal combination of punch and control to allow a forward yet layered presentation.

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

PRE-SET COUNTERWEIGHT

MANUAL SPEED CHANGE

UPGRADED CARTRIDGE

And Matt Berninger’s baritone vocal, showcasing brilliantly that full-bodied balance, with a healthy dose of thick but agile low end supporting the rest of the frequency range, is as flattered by the Rega’s dynamic ability as De La Sierra’s flowing phrases on the piano. It all reveals the RP1’s truly expressive dynamic range. It might seem unfair pitting the RP1 against two products in this test whose package, including phono stages and USB outputs as they do, is not solely focused on sound quality. And maybe it is. But the Rega seems to combine the best of what Audio Technica’s AT-LP5 and Flexson VinylPlay offer so well, with no fault at all we can really pick at this price. Whether it represents the best value for money depends on your requirements – whether you already have an external phono stage or a need for digitising your records, for example – but if sonic ability is your only concern, this is the direction in which your eye should be cast.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT It might be a budget deck, but its across-the-board sonic talent is more akin to much more expensive turntables


T U R N TA B L E S

TEST WINNER

Audio Technica AT-LP5 £330 Sonic fidelity, fine build quality and clever features – in this instance it’s a winning combination

SYSTEM BUILDER Partnering kit that will really suit the AT-LP5

I

n some ways, writing a verdict here seems to miss the point a touch, because these three are all very different animals. Sonically, the Rega RP1 clearly leads – really it is ahead here in all respects. It is unmatched in terms of the detail it digs out, its warmth, body, and understanding of rhythm and dynamics. But then the Audio Technica AT-LP5 and Flexson VinylPlay aren’t automatically its rivals; they’re in a footrace of their own.

The telling difference In that race, the former is the champion. It doesn’t have the overt smoothness of the VinylPlay, nor quite the body with vocals and the midrange as a whole, but it replaces that with space, cleanliness and a delightfully musical performance. Though it doesn’t quite match the RP1 in absolute terms, the AT-LP5 still gets most things right, which is why it is a pleasure to listen to and we are left picking out its fortes rather than faults.

F O R A F U L L L I S T O F S P E C I F I C AT I O N S A N D O T H E R U S E F U L I N F O V I S I T W H AT H I F I . C O M

Moreover, we can’t underplay how it feels to use – we could be playing with a turntable at least a couple of hundred pounds more expensive and still feel we were getting our money’s-worth – nor its versatility when it comes to upgrading with a separate phono stage. So why do we think the Audio Technica edges it in terms for value for money? It’s because, while the RP1 does improve on the AT-LP5 sonically, it doesn’t necessarily drastically improve our enjoyment of the music. There’s more detail, body and space, yes, but the AT-LP5 still gives us an all-round musical performance that is greater than the sum of its parts. That, combined with its on-board phono stage and USB output, is why it takes the crown this time round.

AMPLIFIER Marantz PM6005 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £300 Smooth and expressive, this beautifully made amp also has great timing and plenty of

STEREO SPEAKERS Monitor Audio Bronze 2 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £280 Our 2015 Best speaker £200-£400 Award-holder combines impressive insight and dynamics with weighty bass and scale

Total build £910

TEST WINNER

HOW THEY MEASURE UP

Audio Technica AT-LP5

Flexson VinylPlay

Rega RP1

Weight

11kg

5kg

5.5kg

Speeds

33⅓, 45rpm

33⅓, 45rpm

33⅓, 45rpm

MM/MC

MM

MM

MM

Phono stage

Yes

Yes

No

A to D converter

Yes

Yes

No

Cartridge

Yes

Yes

Yes

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HEADPHONES

Taking it

personally

This is about just you and your music. So which premium over-ears are the best matchmakers?

00

HEAD TO HEAD

54 www.whathiďŹ .com


E

verybody deserves good music wherever they go, and it is our firm belief that a good pair of headphones makes every journey better. What we have here are two giants of the over-ear headphone market, wrestling for that space in your handbag or manbag. In one corner we have former Award-winners the Bowers & Wilkins P7s, which have previously inspired us to say things such as, “some of the best over-ear headphones you can buy”. They face off against a brand-new challenger from Sennheiser, which has just celebrated 70 years in the headphone game and is keen to shake things up with a radical new approach. An old favourite versus a flamboyant newcomer. Who will come out on top?

HEADPHONE HISTORY Sennheiser first surfaced in 1945 under the name Laboratorium Wennebostal, a moniker understandably soon abbreviated to Labor W. It began making microphones and, soon after, amplifiers and preamps. The Sennheiser name came in 1958 and 10 years e HD 414 – es. andack of the ith his friend ng of an il 2010 that adphones,

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HEADPHONES

COMFORTABLY SUPERI

OR

Bowers & Wilkins P7 £330 FOR Detailed, balanced, clear sound; compact; comfortable

AGAINST Cable could be longer for easier use at home

★★ ★ ★ ★ and the brushed metal caps on the ear cups, mean the P7s exude class – like an executive leather armchair for your ears. The earpads are lovely. Their sheepskin leather is ultra-soft, rivalled only by the memory foam they contain. Clamp force is nicely judged: there’s a good seal, with a grip just strong enough to make sure they don’t fall off your head – but they never squeeze. They’re a comfortable wear, although your ears may get a little warm over longer listening sessions. When you’re done listening, the ear cups fold inwards on aluminium hinges, making them easy to stick in a bag, or the supplied quilted carry case.

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s always easy to pick Bowers & Wilkins out of a line-up. They’re essentially the same gorgeous design, shrunk or enlarged depending on the occasion, and made with the sort of quality that leads you to coo over them. The B&W P7s are the company’s biggest and most expensive pair of headphones to date, sitting above the P3 and P5 cans. But where both of these models rest on your ears, the P7s have been designed to envelop them. If you’re after superb-sounding on-ears and portability is priority, these B&Ws could be your best buy of the year. That’s right: after scooping the 2013 Award for Best Headphones in their price category, they remain a benchmark for a host of new arrivals. We start with rapper Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s Thrift Shop and it’s hard to ignore the P7s’ enthusiasm. Full of panache, they capture the fun of the

Big-speaker sound

IN DETAIL...

You can fold the P7s’ earcups under the headband for storage in their carry case

track with impeccable timing. The playful lyrics are clear and focused, and the sporadic instrumental quirks in the song pass in and out with purpose. A bold bassline is hard-hitting too, taut and controlled enough to avoid veering into boomy. When it comes to balance, the P7s are close to perfect. Skip to another track Wing$ and the P7s overflow with detail – even when the song crashes into its uplifting beat, the P7s stay level-headed.

The crucial difference

Remove the magnetic earpads and the drive unit is revealed beneath the grille

56 www.whathifi.com

Up against the pricier Sennheiser HD 630VBs, the P7s hold their own. The Sennheisers have a fancy rotary dial for variable bass, but B&W’s grasp of tonal balance is such that we never feel the need to adjust the bass. The B&Ws also boast tighter timing and wider dynamic range than the Sennheisers – traits that make the P7s a more engaging listen. The P7s are elegant, brandishing a simple, yet classic, black and metal partnering. The attention to detail is what really impresses here. The white stitching on the black leather headband,

KEY FEATURES

WEIGHT 290g

IN-LINE MIC AND REMOTE

1

2

3

Their large size (don’t worry, they’re not too big) has allowed B&W to design a driver suspension more similar to that in a conventional speaker. If you peel off the magnetic earpads, you can see the 4cm drive unit through the grilles. B&W claims this new piece in the headphone puzzle has greater precision and control, and having spent some time in the P7’s company we find it hard to disagree. The headphones come with two choices of cables, one with an in-line mic and control for Apple devices and another without. The 3.5mm end fits into your portable device, while the 2.5mm jack feeds into a similarly sized socket under the left earpad. At 1.2m, neither cable is particularly long though, so you’ll need to make sure your sofa sits close enough to your source if you are using the P7s in the home. We’ve long been fans of B&W’s approach to headphone design, and the P7s are truly something special. They might be B&W’s most expensive cans yet, but we think they’re worth every penny.

4

says CABLE 1.2m

RATING ★★★★★ SOUND COMFORT BUILD

VERDICT Our 2013 Award-winning headphones remain untouched by newer competition at this price


HEADPHONES

A NEW SONIC DIRECTI

ON

Sennheiser HD 630VB £400 FOR Detailed sound; variable bass; fine build quality

AGAINST Could do with more vim and vigour; fixed cable

★★ ★ ★ ★ IN DETAIL...

You can trust Sennheiser to pull something different out of the hat. all, this is the company that celebra its 70th birthday by releasing a €50 headphone/amp system housed in block of marble. You don’t get that level of bling w the Sennheiser HD 630VB headpho but nonetheless they offer somethi didn’t expect: ‘VB’ stands for Variab Bass. These are closed-back, over-th headphones, apparently aimed at audiophiles on the go, and with an adjustable bass boost. You read tha correctly: we just used ‘audiophile’ ‘bass boost’ in the same sentence. Fans of Sennheiser’s existing HD 600-series headphones will notice a radical break from tradition. In th they have been prestigious audiop headphones with open backs, desi for use in the home. They certainly condoned messing with the bass ei

Like the P7s, the Sennheisers fold inwards to maximise their portability

Everybody twist The HD 630VBs, by contrast, are be to be messed with. The side of the r earcup is a rotary dial, which operat like a volume knob: twist clockwis more bass, anti-clockwise for less. Sennheiser says this gives you a difference of +/- 5dB at 50Hz. The fun doesn’t stop there. A rub circle in the middle of the dial also houses smartphone playback and volume controls. It is Android- as well as iOS-compatible. We encounter no problems receiving play/pause and volume up/down privileges with phones from LG, Samsung, Sony and Motorola.

How to get noticed In contrast to the B&W P7s’ understated elegance, the 630VBs sport bold material choices – blue synthetic leather, red cloth (in the lining) and chunky aluminium. Would you wear these out and about? They’re designed for portable use, although we might think twice about taking them out on the morning commute. There’s no getting past their chunky appearance (fat Cybermen come to mind) and at 400g they don’t qualify as featherweights. Then again, they’re comfortable. They don’t clamp down too hard and the earpads provide a good seal against the outside world. The build quality is

The bass and smartphone controls are in the right earcup, leaving the left blank

the right earcup. That means you can t replace it if it breaks, or if you just fancy a longer one for home use. At this money, we think that’s a shame. We’ve seen headphones with ‘bass boost’ before, but nothing with this level of finesse. The bass adjustment here is very subtle – bass weight creeps up but the rest of the frequency is mostly unaffected. Turn it to maximum and the sound thickens up considerably. For us the sweet point was usually about halfway.

WEIGHT 400g

BASS ADJUSTMENT

says

Upper class, middle class Forget about the bass for a moment and the treble stays on the pleasant side of crisp, never hardening even when you crank it up. The midrange, however feels a little recessed – we feel vocals and guitar strums could be more forthcoming. We like the clarity of the sound, and detail levels are good too. Imaging is impressive and there’s plenty of space – it’s not obvious that these are closed-

back headphones. If there is a flaw in the audio performance, it is the ability to engage. The sound never fully grabs you. The HD 630VBs are well featured and give a competent, amiable performance. But B&W’s P7s have tighter timing and wider dynamics – even without variable bass – making for a more entertaining listen than the Sennheisers, and in our view that’s what really counts.

RATING ★★ ★★ ★ 3.5 MM JACK PLUG

SOUND COMFORT BUILD

VERDICT Variable bass makes for an unusual Sennheiser experience, but not one that can match the best at this price

www.whathifi.com 57


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HEADPHONES

TEST WINNER

Bowers & Wilkins P7£330 ★★★★★ The Sennheisers grab your attention, but it’s B&W’s traditional values that win the day here

W

e weren’t expecting such an interesting fight. Both pairs of headphones are fine performers from venerable audio companies, but the B&W P7s and Sennheiser HD 630VBs are different beasts that go about their business with different tactics.

SYSTEM BUILDER

Understated virtue What the B&W P7s offer is elegance, simplicity and focus. They are smaller and more portable. Their design is understated, using a classic combination of black leather and chromed metal. They’re classy without looking pretentious, fit for Economy and First Class alike. They don’t have features to show off, besides the ability to swap cables. This reserved approach means B&W could spend more energy on sound quality, and it shows. The P7s remain some of the best headphones we’ve heard for the money. By contrast, the Sennheiser HD 630VBs are loud and proud. From the chunky design to the blue leatherette earpads, everything about them is bold and attention-grabbing. Then there’s that rotary dial for variable bass, the mobile control buttons and the fact that they are universally compatible across iOS and Android. It’s an impressive feature list, although we feel the sound could have had more attention. It’s a fine performance, but not class-leading.

SMARTPHONE iPhone 6S ★★★★★ Still our top smartphone choice for all things audio/visual – and a breeze to use to boot

DAC Chord Mojo ★★★★★ £400 This small wonder offers a hugely informative and dynamic sound, plus it’s portable

Total build £730

On sound alone, the Sennheisers are no match for the B&Ws. Make no mistake, the HD 630VBs excel in clarity and detail, as well as a spacious presentation. But even with the variable bass they do not accomplish the excellent cohesion of the P7s.

The P7s are proof that you don’t have to be the newest, smartest or best-featured to come out on top

The HD 630VBs also could be more engaging, a quirk we put down to rhythm, dynamics and a slightly recessed midrange. The P7s exploit this weakness, using the occasion to show off their impeccable timing and hard-hitting dynamics. The P7s are the more rounded, entertaining option.

The bottom line We also ought to consider the price. The B&Ws cost £330 while the Sennheisers cost £400. It’s a considerable margin, and while we are tempted by the Sennheisers’ features, we find ourselves sticking with better sound quality for less.

TEST WINNE

HOW THEY MEASURE UP B&W P7

Sennheiser HD 630VB

Foldable

Yes

Yes

Jack plug

3.5mm

3.5mm

Impedance

22 ohms

23 ohms

Cable length

1.2m

1.2m

Detachable cable

Yes

No

Weight

290g

400g

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4 K B L U - R AY v s 4 K S T R E A M I N G

The best way to get 4K The age of 4K is here, but do we have to compromise on quality or convenience? hysical formats are dead. Everything is online, they say. We’re not so sure. We are indiscriminate users of discs and streaming services, and it’s not that simple. Can the convenience of streaming outweigh the quality of UHD Blu-ray? And where does regular Blu-ray fit into the equation? This warrants an in-depth, step-by-step comparison of each. Read on for a thorough breakdown of the pros and cons of 4K home entertainment...

P

4K FACTS 1997 The first DVD discs become available 2006 Blu-ray is introduced 2006 Amazon launches online streaming as Amazon Unboxed 2007 Netflix begins to stream online content 2008 Amazon Unboxed is renamed Amazon Video 2014 Netflix launches 4K streaming 2016 UHD Blu-ray discs launches

www.whathifi.com 61


4K: does convenience trump performance?

4K BLU-RAY DISCS

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 The story is no great shakes, but the 4K HDR picture is a combination of punch, detail and rich colour palette. If this is a taste of the format, count us in

MAD MAX The film’s about as subtle as a bull mastiff in a poodle parlour, but it’s eye-poppingly bright and colourful. And in 4K you can almost feel the dust in your teeth

62 www.whathifi.com

or anyone whose favourite place in the world is right in front of the TV, there has never been a better time. Video technology is better than ever, and the range of hardware and software choices on offer is staggering. Despite this, we cannot completely banish the notion of compromise, the need to balance quality and convenience. So as we enter the age of 4K and Ultra HD, it’s only right to ask: which is better, discs or streaming services? Although ‘better’ here is in the eye of the remote holder, the question can’t be without considering the factors that determine our viewing habits.

Round 1: Picture Let’s start with the big one: picture quality. Netflix brought 4K video to the mainstream in 2014, planting a flag in the ultra highly defined ground with the second season of House of Cards. Amazon Instant Video joined in and the two services cornered the 4K market. 4K streaming is very good. What you get is four times the pixels of a Full HD 1080p resolution – approximately 8.3m pixels. But how does it compare against BD and 4K BD? We watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, one of the only titles available across all formats, on a Panasonic TX-65DX902 – at the time of writing the best 4K TV we’ve seen. We begin streaming from Amazon Instant Video. It doesn’t start well – the Sony Columbia logo couldn’t be blurrier if we’d smeared Vaseline on the screen. But after a few seconds of buffering, the picture loads up to 1080p, and then 4K.

It has remarkable sharpness and clarity. The usual markers such as the definition and texture on hair, skin, clothing and buildings are all very impressive, especially for a large screen, and you can sit a lot closer than you could before with a 1080p TV. But this is a streamed video, and it is subject to the usual streaming niggles: higher compression and low bitrates. Regardless of the picture resolution, it impacts on the picture’s overall subtlety. The faults are less apparent in bright,

The picture is crisp, with stunning clarity making the most of fine textures. Colours are vivid and subtly shaded, especially in dark scenes. That’s just with the standard dynamic range, a fairer fight against 4K streaming and Blu-ray. One of the best things about 4K BDs is high dynamic range (HDR) which ramps up contrast, brightness and colour range. More colours makes for more realistic shading. Better contrast means a much harder visual kick. High peak brightness means greater increments at both ends

“So as we enter the age of 4K and Ultra HD, it is only right to ask: which is better, discs or streaming services? However, ‘better’ here is definitely in the eye of the remote holder” busy and fast-moving scenes, but darkness proves a challenge. We compare the 4K stream with a 1080p Blu-ray. Shading, especially in the dark, is more nuanced. Colours are richer and more solid. You may not get the outright sharpness of a good 4K stream, but it is at maximum resolution the moment the video starts playing, and the latest 4K TVs do a good job of upscaling. With 4K streaming and 1080p Blu-rays almost neck-and-neck: slightly greater resolution and sharpness of the streaming versus greater subtlety in colours and contrast on the Blu-ray, we look at 4K on disc. This is an entirely different matter. The video quality of a UHD Blu-ray is leaps and bounds over 4K streaming and regular Blu-ray.

of the light spectrum, which equals more detail in the lightest and darkest areas. With HDR, the picture is gorgeous, and we reckon it is the future of home cinema. In conclusion: 4K streaming and 1080p Blu-rays have their own strengths and weaknesses, but both are easily beaten by the dynamism and subtlety witnessed on 4K Blu-ray. Winner: 4K Blu-ray

Round 2: Sound This is one area where streaming loses out rather badly. Most people watching video on streaming services will not be doing so with a surround sound system. So what you tend to get from streaming is compressed Dolby Digital Plus. A few titles offer that in 7.1, but mostly it’s a 5.1.


4 K B L U - R AY v s 4 K S T R E A M I N G

Compare that to the uncompressed Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio you get on Blu-rays, typically in 5.1 but regularly in 7.1. The weight, scale, detail and dynamic range on disc is a lot more intense, making for a more cinematic experience. Audio quality between BDD and 4K BD is hard to differentiate. Then there’s Dolby Atmos, which makes your surround taller and more immersive, with eerily accurate effects placement. Netfix is confident that it won’t be doing that any time soon. There aren’t many Atmos-compatible Blu-rays right now, but it is standard spec on all the UHD Blu-rays we’ve seen so far. And if you don’t have an Atmos setup, the disc defaults to Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Winner: 4K Blu-ray

Round 3: Ease of use Many people are happy to sacrifice quality for convenience, and with streaming all about instant access, this is where it makes up ground. There are more titles than would fit on your shelf, all available at the touch of a button. Discs, meanwhile, are to be collected. It will be a while before you have a full shelf that offers much choice. A streaming service is also cheaper than buying discs. For a flat fee each month (it’s currently £9.99 for 4K Netflix) you can watch as much as you want, while 4K BDs around £20 to £25 each. Then there’s the cost of the player; the first UHD Blu-ray player to enter our test rooms costs £600. Then again, factor in the massive variable that is the internet. It is simply

unrealistic to expect everybody to have the necessary streaming facilities any time soon. Netflix 4K requires a minimum of 15mbps, although ideally you’d want 25mbps. That’s hardly cheap. And then there’s the issue of bandwidth caps, set by internet providers. What Hi-Fi? HQ has high-speed internet, which gives us all the 4K streaming we need. But even that isn’t immune to the odd glitch, at which point the experience drops and convenience becomes a frustrating unpredictability.

pop. That’s the same as a 4K Blu-ray. At least with them you’ll have something to show for it after a few years. Winner: 4K streaming

Verdict In the end, of course, it’s almost useless comparing streaming services to physical media - they are aimed at fundamentally different audiences. Just as radio exists alongside CDs and vinyl, Netflix and Amazon can live alongside UHD Blu-ray.

“If you’re happy to sacrifice quality for convenience, streaming is all about instant access. There are more titles than would fit on your shelf, all at the touch of a button” Ultra HD Blu-ray, meanwhile, provides a robust system that performs to a consistent standard, independent of external factors, such as how windy it is outside or how many people are online. Then there’s the matter of ownership. Plenty of people take pride in building a collection. Doubly so if the discs come as special editions with steelbook cases, bonus content and directors’ cuts. It requires patience and dedication. Contrast that with the cold reality of streaming. You don’t own anything; you are renting from a temporary collection of ‘vanilla’ editions, which disappears when a catalogue is updated, or when distribution rights expire. There are no 4K films on Netflix at the moment. Amazon has them – at £20 a

4K STREAMING

Streaming is all about convenience. You have a vast, ever replenishing choice, and you can access it instantly. No having to go to the shops or waiting a day before you get what you want to watch through the post. With picture quality that trades blows with Full HD Blu-ray there’s a lot to admire here, even before costs are factored in. But we’re enthusiasts. We want the best picture and sound possible, so buying into 4K Blu-ray is a no brainer. Once you see a film like Spider Man in its full glory it’s hard to do without. So we wouldn’t. However, we love films too, and the sheer choice on offer from the streaming options makes that a proposition that’s extremely hard to turn down. The ideal solution? Go for both.

HOUSE OF CARDS Elegantly and convolutedly scripted, and a vivid and detailed watch when streamed in 4K. Established Neflix’s credentials as a maker, as well as conduit, of fine TV

DAREDEVIL A brutal but brilliant interpretation of Marvel’s saga of a blind lawyer turned vigilante. There’s plenty of action and darkly lit screens to test your system, but it’s the fine acting, great script that keeps us interested

www.whathifi.com 63


DACS

TO

The rise in the popularity of digital music and the quest for better sound performance have seen the humble DAC become an essential piece of hi-fi kit

HEAD TO HEAD

64 ww


DACS

WHAT’S ON TEST? A

i DAC II £495 A

i

T

hanks to the exponential rise in the popularity of digital music, a digital-to-analogue converter has become the crux of any half-decent system. Its life’s purpose is to convert your digital files into analogue waveform, so that they can be output through your headphones or speakers. They are everywhere – built into smartphones, tablets and computers – but not all are born equal. As a broad rule of thumb, the better the DAC the better the sound quality, and this quest for better performance has seen the dedicated standalone DAC market explode to astronomical levels in the past five or so years. If your budget is as healthy as £500, you might well look to two of the biggest and most decorated DAC purveyors: Arcam and Chord. At least one of these has appeared in almost every Awards issue since the first inclusion of the DAC category in 2008. Here, the Chord Mojo – the brand’s entry-level DAC and our current Award-winner – battles it out against Arcam’s successor to the multiAward-winning irDAC: the imaginatively named irDAC-II. Get your digital library at the ready, it’s game on!

Join us on Spotify & Tidal whf.cm/playlist16 Listen to our favourite tracks every month!

www.whathifi.com 65




     



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DACS

RS NOTHING ELSE MATTE

Chord Mojo £400 FOR Subtle, dynamic sound; fine rhythmic drive; portable

Does anyone need a DAC with an upper sampling rate limit of 768kHz? We doubt it. But get past that headline-grabbing spec and it’s obvious the Mojo could be the perfect solution for those who crave Chord’s £1400 Hugo but have stuttered at the hefty price. The name is short for ‘Mobile Joy’. Quite. Unlike many rivals, Chord doesn’t use off-the-shelf DAC chips inside its converters, instead using programmable processors loaded with proprietary software. The Mojo uses the latest and most powerful processors, in theory making it Chord’s most capable DAC. The Mojo’s build quality is terrific. The aircraft-grade aluminium casing is beautifully machined and finished to an extremely high standard. But we miss Chord’s usual extravagant detailing, which has been discarded to meet this entry-level (for the brand) price-point.

Unstoppable momentum The control layout is minimal, with three ball-like buttons taking care of power and volume level. There’s no display, but the power button lights up in different colours depending on the sampling rate (red for 44.1kHz, green for 96kHz, pink for DSD). Similarly, the lighting behind the volume buttons changes according to level. It seems confusing at first, but soon becomes second nature. The Mojo is barely larger than a credit card, and looks toy-like next to desktop rivals like the Arcam irDAC-II. Still, while it doesn’t have the luxury to double up

AGAINST Runs warm and gets hot when charging the battery

on inputs, there’s space for essential connections. (Micro) USB, optical and coax, though the latter takes the form of a 3.5mm jack, and a second USB connection (for charging only) are included. Inputs are auto-sensing, with USB taking priority. Outputs are limited to a pair of 3.5mm headphone jacks. Chord claims an output of 35mW into 600ohms, rising to 720mW into 8 ohms – enough to drive most headphone and pre-amp sections. Once up and running, this a fabulous performer. We listen to Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions on DSD and are gripped from the opening bars of Too High to the end of the album. There’s plenty of detail here, and the kind of insight into the recording that nothing we’ve heard up until the Hugo can better.

IN DETAIL...

★★★★★

“It’s the Mojo’s ability to organise information into a cohesive whole that stands out” KEY FEATURES

32-BIT/384KHZ

SAMPLING RATE

8 HOURS BATTERY LIFE

But it’s the Mojo’s ability to organise all that information into a cohesive whole that stands out. It delivers the hard-charging rhythm track of Higher Ground brilliantly, communicating the song’s unstoppable momentum with the enthusiasm we crave when listening through the more laid-back Arcam. While the Arcam serves up a bigger, more spacious sound, the Mojo conveys a good sense of power and scale when required, applying more finesse to make the most of the subtler passages too. When the piece is demanding, the Mojo remains composed, with every note given the space and attention it deserves. The Mojo offers a large slice of the Hugo’s performance for a fraction of the cost, and that means nothing else in its price band gets a look in. Even at £400, the Mojo is something of a bargain.

says

RATING ★★★★★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

Despite the Mojo’s size, Chord has found space for plenty of essential connections

The buttons light up in different colours depending on sampling rate and volume

VERDICT The Chord Mojo delivers much of the sound performance of the £1400 Hugo, but at a fraction of the price

www.whathifi.com 67


DACs

TEST WINNER

Chord Mojo £400 ★★★★★ The Arcam puts up a strong fight, but for musical performance there can only be one winner

D

ACs come in all shapes and sizes – if this versus match tells us anything it’s that – and like most products, the right one for you is likely case-dependent. If you’re after something versatile that can slip into almost any system, whether that be laptop-based or a more traditional hi-fi set-up, a desktop DAC as well equipped as the Arcam irDAC-II may be just what you need. Its digital and legacy connections – aptX Bluetooth being the icing on the cake – are certainly desirable, especially if you aren’t sold by portability or the convenience of a laptop-powered set-up. Arcam’s open, brawny and refined signature sound is something we’ve come to know and love in its DACs and amps alike, and it reveals itself in the irDAC-II whether you’re playing a high-res song from a laptop or streaming a 320kbps Spotify playlist from a phone. Slipping it into your hi-fi system? The handheld remote will no doubt come in handy too.

SYSTEM BUILDER

HEADPHONES Grado SR325e £280 ★★ ★ ★ ★ Open-backs with a rare level of transparency

Like the Arcam, the Mojo will play almost anything – DSDs and PCM files above and beyond 24-bit/192kHz – but it does so with more razzmatazz, a tighter grasp of rhythms and freer dynamics. It packs a lot of the sonic talents of its big brother, the £1400 Hugo, into a more compact box. Only when you consider that the Hugo is an Award-winner in a higher price band can the enormity of that achievement be realised. The Chord and Arcam may be different beasts in terms of functionality and design, but ultimately performance is king. Musically, the Mojo is in a league of its own, and that’s enough to push the irDAC-II into second place.

All that razzmatazz It’s hard to wholeheartedly get behind its campaign though, when it pulls up short of the attack and rhythmic propulsion set by the Chord Mojo, its almost physical opposite (batterypowered, portable, sparse connections).

Musically, the Chord Mojo is in a league of its own – and is a worthy winner of this test

LAPTOP Apple MacBook Air (13in) £1000 A fantastic base for any laptop-based system

STREAMING SERVICE Tidal £20/month ★★ ★ ★ ★ CD-quality sound and extensive catalogue

Total build £1700

TEST WINNER

HOW THEY MEASURE UP Chord Mojo

Arcam irDAC-II

Dimensions (hwd)

2 x 6 x 8cm

4 x 20 x 13cm

USB in

Yes

Yes

HDMI in

No

No

Headphone outputs

2

1

Finishes

1

1

Wireless

No

Bluetooth

www.whathifi.com 69


TEMPTATION EXPENSIVE, YES. BUT YO

U KNOW YOU WANT TH

EM

Luxman C-700u/M-700u | Preamp/power amp | £5995/£5995

“…savage crescendos…” FOR Understated yet engaging sound; tonality; build and finish

F

ounded back in 1925 when radio broadcasting first started in Japan, Luxman is one of the oldest hi-fi brands around. Since then it has become best known for producing classy, understated source and amplification components. The brand has never made a massive splash in the UK but now, under the watchful eye of the IAG Group (alongside Quad, Audiolab, Wharfedale, Mission and others), it is trying again. The C-700u/M-700u pre/power combination is a fine example of the company’s wares – neat products that never shout out for attention, visually or sonically, but their considerable charms are likely to win you over.

Hefty and tactile Once we wrestle them out of their packaging, the build quality grabs our attention. That’s not just because the pair weigh in at over 40kg, more that they feel immensely solid and engineered to last decades. These products are pleasingly tactile. We love the crisp action of the preamp’s input selector, and the well-damped volume control works beautifully too. There are many other examples of Luxman’s art, such as the lovely machining of the M-700u power amp’s ventilated top panel or the pre’s nicely shaped tone controls – there’s no shortage of attention to detail here, not least in the rather lovely power meters. We have a soft spot for retro details like these, but they can be turned off if you don’t. There’s no shortage of connectivity. The C-700u preamp has five single-ended line-level inputs alongside a pair of stereo 70 www.whathifi.com

AGAINST Preamp could be a little more expressive

★★ ★ ★ ★ unit. There aren’t many systems where that will be necessary though as, when used in stereo, the M-700u delivers 120W per channel into an 8ohm load. This increases strongly to 210W per side as impedance halves. Difficult-todrive speakers shouldn’t be a problem with such reserves.

balanced XLR alternatives. There’s no built-in phono stage or digital inputs, but that’s normal at this level. Most owners will have dedicated boxes for these tasks. It isn’t short of analogue outputs either. There are four sets, split evenly between single-ended and balanced options – ideal when a single stereo power amp will just not do. The Luxman pre has relatively subtle tone controls, which can be of some use

”We love the crisp action of the preamp’s input selector, and the volume control works beautifully too” with poorly balanced recordings. Purists may want to bypass the tone circuitry – worth doing for the extra clarity it brings – and they can do so at the press of a button. There’s also a rarity in the form of a ‘loudness’ control, which adds emphasis to both frequency extremes. It can spice up the presentation at low volumes, but we leave it off most of the time.

The support act matters

Small buttons, yes, but the remote is neatly arranged and weighty enough

KEY FEATURES

BALANCED XLR CONNECTIVITY

Toggle between connections As is the case with most power amps, the M-700u is a simple affair. It mirrors the preamp in having single-ended and balanced XLR connectivity. Usefully, you can toggle between the two options. Look around the back and you’ll find a switch to convert it from a stereo unit to a monobloc – just in case you need more grunt and have a spare £6k for a second

SEVEN LINE-LEVEL INPUTS

120W PER CHANNEL

Neither of these units is small, so you’ll need a substantial support. Make sure that rack is rigid and low-resonance – these are sensitive electronics that will reward such care with improvements in sound quality. Both units give off a fair bit of heat when pushed hard too, so it’s a good idea to position them in a place with decent ventilation, as that’s generally good for reliability. Amplification of this standard requires a top-class system to shine – it can only ever be as good as the source allows. We use our trusty Naim NDS/555PS streamer supplemented by Clearaudio’s Innovation Wood record-playing package. The C-700u doesn’t have a built-in phono stage so Cyrus’s rather good Phono Signature/PSX-R2 fills in superbly. Our long-serving ATC SCM50 speakers complete the system. If ever there were a pre/power combination that shouldn’t be judged on the first listen this is it. Straight from the box the sound is thick, soft and lacking clarity. Leave it running overnight and things improve markedly. Once properly warmed, this combination delivers a tidy sound that matches the way it looks. The


T E M P TAT I O N

Chunky speaker posts give a secure connection. The unit can work as a monobloc if you need even more power www.whathiďŹ .com 71


T E M P TAT I O N We love the fine machining of the ventilation ports…

Plenty of line-level inputs, plus XLR connectivity

…and the solid, pleasing action of the major controls

edges of notes are precise, never overstated and delivered in a steady, controlled manner. Sounds boring? Not a bit of it, as we discover when we play Macklemore and Lewis’s Thrift Shop. There’s so much energy in this track and the Luxmans communicate it well. Their presentation is fast, agile and rendered with precision. Notes stop and start crisply, but never in a stilted way. There’s a lovely organic flow to the sound that puts us in mind of the best valve-powered gear, but here without a hint of excess warmth or richness.

A firm hold Rhythmically things are pretty good too. While no dance machine, this pairing keeps a firm hold of the rhythmic elements of the track, delivering that distinctive bassline with punch and authority. It’s refined too, refusing to allow the recording’s slightly hard edge to become an annoyance. It’s a fine balance that retains plenty of bite but always stops short of harshness. Macklemore’s characterful vocal is clear and easy to follow, but there’s a slight lack of expression, the Luxmans glossing over some of the dynamic nuances and subtle shifts in pace that go into making his delivery so distinctive. We like the tonal balance, though. It’s even and convincing, something brought home when we listen to Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis – the Luxmans convey the varying tension of the music well. Switching to Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring shows off this combo’s impressive 72 www.whathifi.com

”Notes stop and start crisply and there’s a lovely organic flow to the sound that puts us in mind of the best valve-powered gear, but here without a hint of excess warmth or richness” sense of scale and authority. The pair images well, creating an expansive, nicely layered soundstage that’s populated with crisply focused instruments. It’s capable of huge dynamics too, and can deliver the piece’s savage crescendos with enthusiasm. So, not flawless – but we’re pretty impressed. We’re also curious to find out how the pre- and power sound with different partners. We draft in our reference Gamut D3i/D200i pre/power for comparison. It turns out that the C-700u is the weaker of the pairing. Listen to the Gamut preamp with the Luxman power and there’s more dynamic expression, particularly with low-level shifts. This makes vocals sound more emotional. Timing improves too.

A superb £6k power amp The M-700u is a star, though. It doesn’t quite have the insight of the pricier Gamut D200i, but shows enough in the way of dynamics, timing and cohesion to really impress us. It’s got to be one of the best £6k power amps around. Despite our criticisms of the preamp, this Luxman pairing is tempting. Build is top-class and (for the most part) these units just get out of the way of the music, and that’s a quality that’s far less common than it should be.

says

LUXMAN C-700U PREAMP RATING ★★★★ ★ SOUND BUILD FEATURES

FOR Very precise and articulate presentation; impressive connectivity; suberb build and finish AGAINST It could be a little more expressive and insightful VERDICT A pleasure to use and built to a high standard. It’s well equipped too

LUXMAN M-700U POWER AMP RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND BUILD FEATURES

FOR Understated but still engaging sound; convincing tonality; fine scale, authority and imaging; exceptional build and finish AGAINST Nothing at this price VERDICT A deeply impressive power amp that combines finesse with force better than most, and adds terrific build quality


               

 

        

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TEMPTATION A combination of metal, microfibre cloth and quality plastics gives the HD800S a smart design that feels made to last

Sennheiser HD800S | Stereo headphones | £1200

“The most comfortable headphones we’ve tried” AGAINST Need a good source to hear what they can really do

★★★★ ★

f you have a spare £36,000 and want a reference pair of headphones, Sennheiser will happily sell you its outlandish Orpheus complete with partnering DAC/amp. It’s a superbsounding combination, but well beyond the means of all but a fortunate few. So, in the real world, the recently introduced HD800S cans are the next best thing. They’re still pricey at £1200, but a far cry from premium car money. As the name implies these are a development of the highly rated HD800 headphones we reviewed back in 2009. The ‘S’ version doesn’t replace the originals, but sits above them in price instead. Judging by the bluster in the press release, Sennheiser is proud of its new design. ‘Perfection’ is mentioned, which concerns us, but it doesn’t mean these are anything less than terrific.

response of 4Hz to 51kHz (at a rather generous -10dB) – the originals are rated 6Hz to 51kHz. That sounds like a pretty minor difference, but start listening and the upgrade in performance is noticeable. The HD800S’s driver remains the surprisingly large 56mm ring radiator of the original. It still fires the sound at a slight angle rather than directly into the ears to give more of a sense of space to the soundfield. The ‘S’ is offered with a choice of cables – a 3m lead with a highquality 6.3mm jack, and a balanced lead for use with Sennheiser’s stand-alone headphone amp, the £1500 HDVD 800. On paper, at least, not much has changed, and the relatively small difference in price between the originals and the ‘S’ reinforces this impression. In most ways that’s no bad thing – the HD800Ses remain a pleasure to use.

The open-back design means there’s a lot of sound leakage – in both directions. In our busy office it’s possible to hear the noise going on around us and, equally, everyone shares in the fun when we listen to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. But the open design also means our ears don’t heat up anywhere near as much as they do with closed-back rivals.

Structural refinements

In the comfort zone

There are numerous changes over the original HD800. The most obvious difference is the shift from silver to black on the earpieces. But there’s more to the ‘S’ than just a colour change. Sennheiser is rather sketchy on the finer details but the engineers have learnt from the development of the IE 800 (high-end in-ears) and have refined the structure around the driver to reduce resonances and even out the frequency response. The changes are claimed to give the new design a slightly wider frequency

At 330g, they are light for this type of product, and the wonderful design of the headband and earpads means these are among the most comfortable full-size headphones we’ve tried. They’re for domestic use rather than outdoor, but they remain stable despite a fairly light touch when it comes to inward pressure. They aren’t overtly showy, and their combination of metal, microfibre cloth for the earpads and quality plastics has resulted in a smart, modern design that feels as though it will last for years.

FOR Articulate sound; refined and composed; comfortable

I

“It doesn’t take long to realise these headphones are special. The HD800S’s innate resolution keeps things nice and separate without losing cohesion” 74 www.whathifi.com

Rich yet articulate too You’ll need a good-quality set-up to get the most from these Sennheisers. We use our reference Naim NDS/555PS as source, alongside our trusty MacBook Air loaded with Pure Music software. Amplification duties are taken care of by the Chord Hugo and Beyerdynamic’s capable A1 headphone amp. It doesn’t take long to realise these headphones are something special. We start with Stevie Wonder’s emotionpacked All Is Fair In Love. We’re struck by the way these headphones render Stevie’s distinctive voice: beautifully textured, full of dynamic nuance, body and solidity. The relatively simple musical backdrop is organised with care. Individual instrumental strands are easy to follow – the HD800S’s innate resolution keeps things nice and separate without ever losing cohesion. We move on to Kendrick Lamar’s King Kunta and the Sennheisers sound right at home. That deep, pounding bassline provides a firm foundation for the music – it’s rich and layered, yet articulate too. Kendrick’s distinctive delivery is reproduced with all the grit it requires, while the track’s juggernaut of a rhythm powers through irresistibly.

KEY FEATURES

330g WEIGHT

56mm DRIVER 1

2

3

3m LEAD

4


T E M P TAT I O N

Sennheiser is proud of its new ‘perfect’ design, which is claimed to reduce resonance There’s just a hint of the HD800S playing it a touch safe – something we notice on the originals – but it never goes too far. The energy and sparkle of the music isn’t diluted and instead this rounded approach helps give a dose of refinement, which prevents even coarse recordings from annoying us. Next up is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3. Here these headphones show off their insight and delicacy. The music flows with grace and dynamic ease – both large and small-scale shifts are delivered with skill. We think Sennheiser has got the tonality of these just right, leaving instruments sounding full-bodied and convincing.

The headphones’ composure and resolving powers come to the fore as the music’s complexity increases. It’s all kept under control without sounding sterile. There’s a lovely sense of space to the presentation, something we don’t always associate with headphones. Although many will have doubts about spending so much on a pair of headphones, if sound quality is your main priority then consider you’d need to spend at least 10 times as much on speakers to get anywhere near to the Sennheiser’s insight and resolution. Provided you have a good enough source and amplification, these Sennheisers are an excellent buy.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Sennheiser’s latest high-end headphones are a treat, and a clear step up from the standard version

www.whathifi.com 75


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BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS Stereo amps up to £500

The only products worth considering

HI-FI AMPLIFIERS THE BEATING HEART OF YOUR HI-FI SYSTEM

Marantz PM6005 £300 May 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 AWARD WINNER

Onkyo A-9010 £200 Best stereo amplifier under £300, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 £600 May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 £500

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

£500 to £1000

Best stereo amplifier £300-£700, 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 £925 January 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 £900 Best stereo amplifier £700-£1000, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

Naim Supernait 2 £2750 £1000 to £3000

December 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Rega Elicit-R £1600 Best stereo amplifier £1000+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

86 www.whathifi.com


AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED Roksan Caspian M2 £1900 October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Roksan K3£1250 February 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This lively effort from Roksan delivers a sound that’s big, expressive and agile. It even performs capably on a Bluetooth connection. Power 150W Inputs 5 line, MM, B’tooth Outputs Spkr, preamp, h’phone

£1000 to £3000

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

Burmester 032 £12,380 June 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Dan D’Agostino Momentum integrated £42,000 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Get past the cost of the Dan D’Agostino 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

January 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Townshend Allegri £1895 August 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Allegri a passive unit with six inputs and two outputs, but the real attraction is a wonderfully transparent sound that brims with insight. Inputs 6 line-in, MC Output Single-ended DAC No

Preamps up to £9000

GamuT D3i £6150

£3000 and above

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

Aesthetix Janus Signature£10,000 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This cutting-edge valve-powered preamp is remarkably refined but preserves all the energy and power in the music. Expensive, but lovely. Inputs 5 line-in, MM, MC Outputs Balanced, single-ended DAC No

February 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Burmester’s masterpiece may be decades old but a string of upgrades have kept it relevant. Sound quality remains exceptional. Inputs line-in, MM, MC (opt) Outputs Balanced, single-ended DAC No

£9000 and above

Burmester 808 MK5 £22,242

Mark Levinson 326S £9300 July 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Power amps

Cyrus Mono X300 Signature £2750

www.whathifi.com 87


Up to £10,000

AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED GamuT D200i £8500 January 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£10,000 and above

Altas Stereo Signature £10,000 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This Atlas comes close to being all things to all listeners. It has loads of grunt, yet there’s a gentle side too with delicacy and exceptional insight. Power output 200W Mono/Stereo Stereo Inputs 2 x Phono, 2 x XLR

Burmester 911 Mk3 £32,800 August 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS GET THE RIGHT PLAYER AND CD CAN STILL SHINE AWARD WINNER

Cambridge Audio CXC £300 Best CD transport under £500, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £500

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 AWARD WINNER

Marantz CD6005 £300 Best CD player under £500, 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

Onkyo C-N7050 £350 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 to £1000

A CD player or a hi-res music streamer? Whatever it is, the C-N7050 is a hugely appealing system that combines the best of both worlds. Type CD player/streamer Outputs Optical, coaxial, line level

Cyrus CD t £750 Best CD transport £500+, 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

Cyrus CD i £1050

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

£1000 to £1500

Best CD player £500+, 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

Naim CD5si £1080 October 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 88 www.whathifi.com


CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS CONTINUED November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£1000 to £1500

Roksan K3 CD Di £1300

Cyrus CD Xt Signature £1750 May 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Roksan Caspian M2 CD £1900 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, USB, XLR, RCA

£1500 to £2000

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

Esoteric K-05 £7495 January 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Metronome Le Player £5490

NEW ENTRY

April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Entry-level’ in name only, this effort from Metronome features an agile, articulate presentation along with plenty of insight. Type CD player Outputs Coaxial, optical, USB, XLR, RCA

£2000 to £10,000

The K-05 is a hefty, well-built piece of hi-fi. The sense of scale and composure is impressive; as is its powerful, yet articulate bass. Type CD player Outputs Coax, opt, XLR, RCA Inputs Coax, opt, USB

Burmester 089 £13,320 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

Burmester 069 £35,840 November 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£10,000 and above

January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

DACS A DIGITAL-TO-ANALOGUE CONVERTER IS A MODERN HI-FI MUST

Arcam miniBlink £90

AWARD WINNER

Best Bluetooth receiver, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 £130

Up to £200

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

February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 www.whathifi.com 89


DACS CONTINUED Chord Mojo £400

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

£200 to £500

Best DAC £400-£800, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The majority of the £1400 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

Oppo HA-2 £250

AWARD WINNER

Best DAC under £400, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 to £1000

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

Audiolab M-DAC £600 June 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Chord 2Qute £1000 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£1000 to £2000

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

Chord Hugo £1400

AWARD WINNER

March 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Naim DAC-V1 £1250 July 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Bricasti Design M1 DAC £7000 March 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£2000 and above

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 6 x 43 x 30cm Res to 352.8kHz

Chord Hugo TT £2995 September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 23cm Res Up to 32-bit/384kHz

TAD DA1000 £11,995 May 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s massive and it costs an eye-watering £12,000, but this is a brilliant performer. Agile and refined, it handles low level detail with finesse. Inputs USB, opt, coax, AES/EBU Size 9 x 27 x 27cm Res Up to 384kHz

F O R A F U L L L I S T O F S P E C I F I C AT I O N S A N D I N - D E P T H R E V I E W S V I S I T W H AT H I F I . C O M 90 www.whathifi.com


MUSIC STREAMERS THE BEST WAY TO SHARE YOUR TUNES AROUND THE HOUSE

Bluesound Node 2 £435 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Google Chromecast Audio £30 January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £500

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

Google turns its expertise to audio streaming to bring music from any Cast-compatible app to your amps and speakers. And for only £30. DLNA Yes Inputs RCA, 3.5mm, optical Storage No

Cambridge Audio CXN £700

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best streamer £500-£1000, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

Pioneer N-50A £500

AWARD WINNER

Best streamer £500-£100, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 to £1000

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

The impressive N-50A offers an insightful performance, and can pluck music over DLNA and Internet radio or via a hoard of inputs. DLNA Yes Inputs optical, coaxial, USB Storage No

Cambridge Audio Azur 851N £1200 March 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Cyrus Stream Xa £1250

AWARD WINNER

Best streamer £1000-£1500, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£1000 to £2000

A sterling streamer that boasts excellent file support, plenty of connections and a sound that’s both expressive and dynamic. DLNA Yes Inputs 2 x optical, 2 x coaxial, 3 x USB, ethernet Storage No

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 £2010 Awards 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Naim ND5 XS £2245 Best streamer £1500+, 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

August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£10,000 and above

Burmester Musiccenter 151 £12,500

£2000 to £10,000

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

www.whathifi.com 91


£10,000 and above

MUSIC STREAMERS CONTINUED Naim NDS/555PS £12,620 December 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

RADIOS ONE OF THE OLDEST ENTERTAINMENT TECHS, STILL GOING STRONG

Pure Evoke D2 £90 Up to £200

Best radio under £100, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

A three-time Award-winner. For just £85, you have a stellar radio that not only sounds lovely but will look charming in any home. Battery Yes Size (hwd) 15 x 21 x 7cm Inputs Mini-USB, 3.5mm

Roberts Stream 93i £150

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best radio £100-£200, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

This Roberts delivers deep bass that doesn’t overpower the midrange. Spotify Connect, wi-fi and USB playback are the headliners. Battery No – Size (hwd) 21 x 24 x 13cm Inputs 3.5mm

Geneva World Radio DAB+ £270 September 2013 ★★★★★

This Bluetooth-toting portable radio is a sleek machine that’s a breeze to use. The full-bodied, detailed performance is worth the price. Battery Yes (chargeable) Size 18 x 30 x 12cm Inputs 3.5mm, B’tooth

Revo Axis X3 £200 £200 and above

January 2014 ★★★★★

Strong with voices, the X3 goes surprisingly loud for a compact radio. It also has internet radio, aptX Bluetooth and a Lightning connector dock. Battery No Size 13 x 22 x 15cm Inputs 3.5mm, B’tooth, Apple, DLNA

Revo SuperConnect £280

AWARD WINNER

Best radio £200+, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

Not just a radio, this feature-packed Revo is a streaming music player that will play just about anything from nearly any source. Battery No Size 18 x 27 x 12cm Inputs 3.5mm, Bluetooth, DLNA

Ruark Audio R1 Mk3 £200 April 2015 ★★★★★

A stylish design, petite size and a solid performance packed with detail and character mean this charming unit is perfect for talk-radio and music. Battery Yes (opt) Size (hwd) 17 x 13 x 13.5cm Inputs AUX in, 3.5mm

STEREO SPEAKERS Desktop up to £1000

THEY BRING THE MUSIC TO YOUR EARS – SO CHOOSE WITH CARE

Eclipse TD-M1 £800 August 2014 ★★★★

Some might feel the TD-M1s are watching them – but we’re more interested in the great stereo imaging, fine detail and precision. Size (hwd) 24 x 16 x 22cm Powered Yes Finishes 2

92 www.whathifi.com


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Best desktop speaker £200+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Desktop up to £1000

KEF Egg £350

Our 2015 Best Desktop Speaker Over £200 have a distinctive design and flexible connectivity – and a stunning, consistent performance. Size (hwd) 27 x 13 x 17cm Powered Yes Finishes 3 AWARD WINNER

Best floorstander under £600, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Another 2015 Award-winner, and no wonder. The powerful 3050s are so talented, they give speakers closer to £1000 a run for their money. Size (hwd) 100 x 20 x 30cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 5

“Hats off to Q Acoustics: these speakers are another staggering achievement”

Floorstanders up to £1000

Q Acoustics 3050 £500

B&W 683 S2 £1150 October 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Q Acoustics Concept 40 £1000 May 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tannoy Revolution XT 6F £1000

AWARD WINNER

Best floorstander £600-£1200, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

“Aim to give you a sound that you can happily listen to”

“They’re beautifully finished, but more importantly they sound every bit their asking price”

£1000 to £2000

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

“Among the best floorstanders we’ve heard at this price”

Tannoy Revolution XT 8F £1300 July 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

“Give them a larger room to play in and the XT8Fs will shine”

Eclipse TD 510Z Mk2 £3840 August 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The 510Z Mk2s plump for the single-driver route to quality sound. It yields insight, impressive agility and rock-solid stereo imaging. Size (hwd) 98 x 38 x 39cm Bi-wire No Finishes 3

PMC Twenty 23 £2300 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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

Spendor A6R £2500 Best floorstander over £1200, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“Given a suitably talented system, the Twenty 23s sound terrific”

AWARD WINNER

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

Spendor D7 £3500 February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 6

“A fantastic pair of speakers that do so much right”

£2000 to £5000

February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“They do things that no conventional rival can match”

“Spendor has a rich history of making terrific speakers. You can count the D7s among them”

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£2000 to £5000

STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Triangle Signature Delta £4900 July 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 3

ATC SCM40A £6280 April 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 2 Powered Yes

Focal Electra 1038Be £7700 July 2015 ★★★★★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 2

PMC Twenty 26 £5750 £5000 and above

November 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

ProAc Response D40/R £6125 October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 6

Quad ESL-2812 £6500 October 2013 ★★★★★

Electrostatic speakers with cutting-edge standards of mid-range finesse, great detail and a smooth tone. In many respects, unmatched. Size (hwd) 107 x 69 x 38cm Bi-wire No Finishes 1

Tannoy Definition DC10T £5250 October 2013 ★★★★★

We’ve heard few price rivals that come close to matching the dynamic envelope, authority and sheer engagement of these big Tannoys. Size (hwd) 113 x 34 x 32cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 3

100 www.whathifi.com

“They’re entertainers of the highest order”

“Once up and running, these ATCs are deeply impressive speakers”

“Wonderfully polished performers that work well with all types of music”

“An all-round package that’s very hard to pick holes in”

“We could stretch this out, but we won’t: the D40/Rs are wonderful”

“Spend some time with the Quads and the shortcomings in conventional speakers soon become apparent”

“These are speakers with a big heart and it’s really hard not love them”


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Tannoy Kensington GR £9950 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wilson Audio Sophia 3 £16,500 October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Eye-wateringly expensive but hugely capable, too. Properly partnered they’re able to deliver a sound full of detail, dynamics and drive. Size (hwd) 105 x 35 x 48cm Bi-wire No Finishes 7

“Arguably the Sophia 3s are Wilson Audio’s best-value speakers”

£5000 and above

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

“There’s enough sonic quality to place them on the top rung of speakers at this price”

Dali Zensor 1 £200 July 2015 ★★★★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 2

Best standmounter £200-£400, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

Q Acoustics 3020 £190 Best stereo speaker under £200, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 5

Standmounts up to £300

Monitor Audio Bronze 2 £280

Wharfedale Diamond 220 £180 March 2015 ★★★★★

A talented speaker that’s a great fit for a budget or mid-range set-up. At less than £200 the Diamonds are an attractive proposition. Size (hwd) 50 x 32 x 41cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

Dali Zensor 3 £300 October 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Q Acoustic Concept 20 £350 October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£300 to £500

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 3

If you want a top-quality, sub-£500 standmounter you ignore this one at your peril. Clarity and refinement shine through in abundance. Size (hwd) 26 x 17 x 28cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

B&W 685 S2 £500

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best stereo speaker £400-£800, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

KEF LS50 £800 December 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 to £1000

Put simply, the 685 S2s are superb. Hugely entertaining, with power, punch and excellent detail retrieval. Size (hwd) 35 x 19 x 32cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 1 www.whathifi.com 101


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Martin Logan Motion 15 £795 December 2013 ★★★★

£500 to £1000

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 2

Neat Iota £695 December 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

You wouldn’t think it to look at them but these unusual speakers turn out a big, weighty, detailed performance. They sound truly remarkable. Size (hwd) 13 x 20 x 17cm Bi-wire No Finishes 5

Triangle Esprit Titus EZ £600 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 3

ATC SCM11 (2013) £1200 Best standmounter £800-£1200, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£1000 to £1500

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2 Powered Yes

Neat Motive SX3 £1045 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 4

ProAC Studio 118 £1075 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

Dynaudio Xeo 4 £1775 £1500 to £2000

November 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 2

PMC Twenty 22 £1920 November 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

ATC SCM19 £2000 £2000 and above

Best standmounter £1200+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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 Bi-wire No Finishes 2

ATC SCM20ASL Pro £4380 October 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

These ATCs are terrific value. Getting standmounters and four power amplifier channels of such a high standard should cost far more than this. Size (hwd) 45 x 25 x 39cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 1 Powered Yes

102 www.whathifi.com


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Focal SM9 £4100 October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

1.2 kW of power amplification and sound quality that conventional alternatives at twice the price would struggle to better. Quite superb. Size (hwd) 32 x 49 x 39cm Bi-wire No Finishes 1

December 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Fluid, balanced and with a solid, agile bass, the S1s are among the most enjoyable standmounters we’ve heard in years. Size (hwd) 38 x 20 x 38cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2

Spendor SP2/3R2 £2795 April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£2000 and above

Roksan Darius S1 £5000

NEW ENTRY

They might lack the excitement of modern alternatives, but these retro speakers boast an easy-going sound and are a pleasure to listen to. Size (hwd) 55 x 28 x 33cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 1

SYSTEMS SIMPLE DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN LOWER QUALITY

Sonos System From £175

AWARD WINNER

Best multi-room system under £500, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Bluesound Generation 2 From £540

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best multi-room system over £500, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Multi-room

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’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

Cambridge Audio Minx Xi £400

AWARD WINNER

Best music system £400-£800, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Denon D-M40DAB £350

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best music system under £400, 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

Ruark Audio R2 Mk3 £400 Best all-in-one music system, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Stereo systems up to £500

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

Packed with extensive radio, network and streaming features, this is a system whose spacious, rich and dynamic performance is captivating. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, internet, DAB, FM AWARD WINNER

Best music system £800-£1500, 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

£500 and above

Naim UnitiQute 2 £1295

www.whathifi.com 103


SYSTEMS CONTINUED Onkyo TX-8150 £550 £500 and above

April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

NEW ENTRY

This modest, unassuming black box is packed to the gills with every streaming feature you can think of. One of the bargains of the year. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, internet, AirPlay

Revo SuperSystem £550

NEW ENTRY

May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

An all-in-one system that exudes quality, this Revo features great sonic performance and terrific retro looks. It’s a talented system. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, internet, Bluetooth

TURNTABLES DECKS TO KEEP THE VINYL REVIVAL THRIVING

Pro-Ject Elemental £150 April 2014 ★★★★★

Up to £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 £210

AWARD WINNER

Best turntable under £400, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

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 £225 Awards 2010 ★★★★★

£500 to £1000

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 £995 Best turntable £800+, 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

104 www.whathifi.com


TURNTABLES CONTINUED Pro–Ject 1 Xpression Carbon UKX £575 £500 to £1000

January 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Planar 3/Elys 2 £625

NEW ENTRY

May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Rega builds on the 3’s predecessor by adding extra servings of clarity, precision and insight. The result is the best RP3 yet. Speed 33.3, 45, 78rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm

Rega RP6/Exact £1000 December 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£1000 and above

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 £2200 December 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

VPI Prime £3750

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best Temptation, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A confident-sounding package that can organise with the best and maintain composure even when faced with the most challenging music. Speed 33.3, 45rpm Size (hwd) 18 x 54 x 40cm

WIRELESS SPEAKERS FREE YOUR MUSIC WITH ONE OF THESE STREAMING WONDERS

Cambridge Audio Go £120 Awards 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

NEW ENTRY

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, up to 18 hrs playback

JBL Flip 3 £100

NEW ENTRY

Up to £150

May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Correcting the missteps of the Flip 2, the Flip 3 boasts a smooth, warm sound as well as improved battery life and connectivity. Size (hwd) 6 x 17 x 6cm Battery Yes, up to 10 hrs playback

Ultimate Ears Boom 2 £120 February 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

UE has built on the success of the original Boom and produced a speaker that betters its predecessor in usability and performance. Size (hw) 18 x 7 x 7cm Battery Yes, up to 15 hrs playback

Ultimate Ears Roll £100 Best portable wireless speaker under £100, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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, up to 9 hrs playback 106 www.whathifi.com


WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Audio Pro Addon T3 £165 Best portable wireless speaker £100-£200, 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, up to 30 hrs (at half volume)

JBL Xtreme £250 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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, up to 15 hrs playback

Best mains-powered wireless speaker under £200, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£150 to £300

Monitor Audio Airstream S150 £150 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

Sonos Play:1 £170 January 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Well built, with solid bass response and great detail and clarity, the Play:1 offers much more than its price tag might suggest. Size (hwd) 16 x 12 x 12cm Battery: No

Ultimate Ears Megaboom £250 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Arguably the most polished performer in the UE range. Battery life and build quality are excellent: you’re in for a musical treat. Size (hw) 23 x 8cm Battery Yes, up to 20 hrs playback

Audio Pro Allroom Air One £400 August 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£300 to £500

Winner of an Award in 2013, the Air One put the cat among the pigeons. It’s still tough to argue with its rounded, entertaining sound. Size (hwd) 20 x 31 x 19cm Battery No

Bluesound Pulse Mini £420 February 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A great addition to Bluesound’s family of wireless speakers, it packs the Pulse’s impressive sound into a smaller, more affordable package. Size (hwd) 17 x 16 x 34cm Battery No

Four reasons to buy a wireless speaker 1 It’s convenient A wireless speaker won’t replace your hi-fi, but sound quality is inching ever closer. The fact that there’s a built-in amplifier along with the speaker means investing in one won’t be as dear as buying a new hi-fi system.

3 You can take it anywhere The good thing about wireless speakers is that some are small enough to take anywhere. Buy a battery-powered wireless speaker and you’re free to take it wherever. Just remember to charge the battery first.

2 It offers plenty of options Connecting a smartphone or music player is useful, but they’re called wireless speakers for a reason. The possibility of Bluetooth, AirPlay, wi-fi, internet radio, DLNA and built-in streaming services means you won’t be lacking when it comes to sources.

4 Buy two or more, and versatility increas Some, but not all speakers, can be used in a multi-room set-up. For those that can, the ability to pause music, move to another room and pick up where you left off is appealing. The fact that a wireless speaker can work so seamlessly is another feather in its cap.

Want mo check ou re? t the full reveiws at www.wh athifi.co m and muc h more

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WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED Geneva Model S Wireless DAB+ £330 Best mains-powered wireless speaker £200-£600, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A classy speaker with additional radio features, the Model S Wireless DAB+ offers clear, detailed, punchy sound with agility and precision. Size (hwd) 15 x 14 x 18cm Battery No AWARD WINNER

KEF Muo £300 Best portable wireless speaker £200, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£300 to £500

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, up to 12 hrs playback

Q Acoustics Q-BT3 £350 June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Ruark Audio MR1 £300 October 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The £50 wireless battery pack for the R1 radio will turn these Awardwinning desktop speakers into a tidy little wireless package. Size (hwd) 17 x 13 x 14cm Battery No

Sonos Play:5 £350 December 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Its rich bass response, great detail and crystal-clear mid-range make the Play:5 a class leader as a wireless speaker or part of a multi-room set-up. Size (hwd) 20 x 36 x 15cm Battery No

B&O BeoPlay A6 £800 February 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Oozing style and substance, the A6 effortlessly combines the simplicity and convenience of a one-box system. It’s a job fully well done. Size (hwd) 30 x 54 x 16cm Battery No

B&W Zeppellin Wireless £500 December 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 and above

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

Geneva AeroSphère Large £650

AWARD WINNER

Best mains-powered wireless speaker £600-£800, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

Not only is this bulbous beauty among the best-looking wireless speakers we’ve seen, it’s high on the list of the best we’ve heard too. Size (hwd) 41 x 41 x 32cm Battery No

Naim Mu-So £895

AWARD WINNER

Best mains-powered wireless speaker £800+, 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

Naim Mu-so Qb £595

NEW ENTRY

April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Like the original Mu-so (see above), the Qb delivers a powerful sound and lots of features, but for a more affordable price. Size (hwd) 21.8 x 21 x 21.2cm Battery No 108 www.whathifi.com

AWARD WINNER


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS The only products worth considering

HOME CINEMA BLU-RAY PLAYERS ENJOY HIGH-DEF MOVIE THRILLS

Panasonic DMP-BDT170 £90

August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sony BDP-S4500 £75 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £100

Picture quality is what counts. It might be short on catch-up services but the arresting colours, strong contrast and good upscaling make up for that. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD

Nothing’s perfect in this life, but the BDP-S4500 comes pretty close. Delivering on every count, it’s a positive steal at this price. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD

Panasonic DMP-BDT370 £100

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best Blu-ray player under £150, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A bright, sharp picture, weighty sound and 4K upscaling, all for just £100. Enough to award this player our 2015 Blu-ray Product of the Year. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD

July 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A tiny player that goes big on performance. Features and design are strong too – and there’s a dedicated Netflix button on the remote. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD

Sony BDP-S7200 £180 Best Blu-ray player £150-£300, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£100 to £300

Sony BDP-S5500 £110

AWARD WINNER

The pictures here are impressive, but it’s with sound quality that this model’s star shines brightest – it’s entertaining, exciting and musical. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD

Pioneer BDP-LX58 £600 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Panasonic DMP-UB900 £600 May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

NEW ENTRY

£300 to £800

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

The first 4K Blu-ray player is a stunner. Lush colours and strong contrast are allied with great defintion. The future of home cinema has arrived. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD

Best Blu-ray player £300+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

£800 and above

Cambridge Audio CXU £1000

www.whathifi.com 109


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£800 and above

BLU-RAY PLAYERS CONTINUED Oppo BDP-105D £1100 March 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£1100 is 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

Sony STR-DN860 £400 Up to £500

September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sony proves the value of performance over the latest mod cons. No Dolby Atmos, but a thoroughly authoritative and engaging sound. Power 7 x 95W Dolby Atmos No HDMI in/out 5/1

Yamaha RX-V379 £300

Best home cinema amplifier under £350, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

This entry-level amp is a great way to start in home cinema. Champion under £350 at the Awards, it offers a scale of sound belying its price. Power 5 x 70W Dolby Atmos No HDMI in/out 4/1

Denon AVR-X2200W £500

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best home cinema amplifier £350-£700, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

£500 to £1000

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 HDMI in/out 8/2

Yamaha RX-A850 £900

AWARD WINNER

Best home cinema amplifier £700-£1000, 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 HDMI in/out 8/2

Yamaha RX-V679 £600 October 2015 ★★★★

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 HDMI in/out 6/1

Onkyo TX-NR3030 £2500 £1000 and above

June 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 8/3

Pioneer SC-LX59 £1400 Best home cinema amplifier £1000+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

The SC-LX59 makes it six £1000+ Awards in a row for Pioneer. This latest offering is better than ever, making it a class-leading receiver. Power 9 x 140W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 8/3

F O R A F U L L L I S T O F S P E C I F I C AT I O N S A N D I N - D E P T H R E V I E W S V I S I T W H AT H I F I . C O M 112 www.whathifi.com


PROJECTORS BECAUSE A MASSIVE PICTURE IS HOME CINEMA

Best projector under £1000, 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

Up to £1000

BenQ W1080ST+ £850

Epson EH-TW6600 £1400 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If you aren’t bothered about wireless connectivity, you’ll be thrilled by its bold, rich colours, sharp lines and hugely impressive contrast. Throw ratio 1.32-2.15:1 Inputs 2 x HDMI, PC, component Speakers Yes PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best projector £1000-£2000, 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

£1000 and above

Epson EH-TW7200 £1900

NEW ENTRY

Sony VPL-VW520ES £8800 April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

With one eye on the future, this feature-laden, 4K and HDR projector performs superbly – if you can afford it. Throw ratio n/a Inputs HDMI, LAN Speakers No

SET-TOP BOXES THE BEST WAY TO ACCESS THE WORLD OF TELEVISION

Humax DTR-T2000 £180 Best PVR, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

This YouView recorder is still one of the best ways to handle live TV. Its 500GB is a decent amount of space, but it’s now available with 1TB too. Tuners 2 Storage 500GB Ultra HD No

Humax FVP-4000T £200 Catch-up TV is made supremely easy with this Freeview Play box. It’s a comprehensive entertainment hub with minimum fuss. Tuners 3 Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No

PVRs

March 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Humax HDR-1100S £190 (500GB), £220 (1TB), £270 (2TB) December 2015 ★★★★★ Now with wi-fi, this impressive Freesat recorder is a genuine wireless entertainment hub. It’s our top subscription-free choice. Tuners 2 Storage 500GB, 1TB, 2TB Ultra HD No

November 2015 ★★★★

The first 4K box to hit the market, this is the most accomplished live TV you can watch. Content is a little limited right now – so sports fans only. Tuners 2 Storage 1TB Ultra HD Yes

Set-top

BT Ultra HD YouView min £15/month + fees

Rs

www.whathifi.com 113


Set-top

SET-TOP BOXES CONTINUED Sky+HD 2TB free or £250

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best subscription service, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

Sky+HD is a complete subscription package that’s hard to rival. The interface keeps getting better too, which is great for longevity. Tuners 2 Storage 2TB Ultra HD No

SOUNDBARS AN IMPRESSIVE WAY TO IMPROVE YOUR TV’S SOUND

Philips HTL5140 £270 Up to £500

December 2014 ★★★★★

Insightful, balanced and unobtrusive, this slimline package will suit almost any set-up. Comfortably deserving of its five-star status. Size 5 x 104 x 7cm Inputs Coax, optical, USB, analogue Sub Yes

Q Acoustics Media 4 £330

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best soundbar under £500, 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

Dali Kubik One £800

AWARD WINNER

Best soundbar £500+, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

£500 and above

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 £600 December 2015 ★★★★★

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

Sonos Playbar £600 January 2015 ★★★★★

Better TV sound is one thing, but this is Sonos in a soundbar – so you can stream music from a NAS, laptop or smartphone or access internet radio. Size (hwd) 9 x 90 x 14cm Inputs Optical Subwoofer Optional

SOUNDBASES AN ALTERNATIVE SOURCE OF SUPERIOR TV SOUND

Cambridge Audio TV5 £250 Up to £500

June 2015 ★★★★★

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 £330 Best soundbase under £400, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Replacing the DM50, the £70 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 114 www.whathifi.com


SET-TOP BOXES CONTINUED Geneva Model Cinema £550 June 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

SOUNDBASES CONTINUED AWARD WINNER

Philips Fidelio XS1 £500 April 2016 ★★★★

£500 and above

This premium soundbase has a big, balanced and authoritative sound, with detail and dynamic insight in spades. It’s worth the extra spend. Size (hwd) 10 x 70 x 35cm Inputs Optical, coaxial NEW ENTRY

If you’re willing to trade a little audio quality for features, connections and streamlined looks, the XS1 should be on your shortlist. Size (hwd) 73 x 4 x 33cm Inputs coaxial, digital, HDMI 1.4, HDMI, RCA

SPEAKER PACKAGES GOOD SURROUND SOUND IS A MOVIE-MAGIC MUST

Style packages up to £1000

Q Acoustics Q7000i £900 November 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Got £900 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 £600 Best style package under £1000, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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 £1100 Best style package £1000+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Style packages £1000 and above

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 £1950 May 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Dali Zensor 1 5.1 £980 Best traditional package under £1000, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Q Acoustics 3000 Series 5.1 £700 July 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Wharfedale Diamond 220 HCP £850 July 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Featuring one of our favourite standmounters, this package offers an excellent surround-sound experience for a reasonable price. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 17 x 47 x 27cm Finishes 7

“Continues the Q Acoustics’ tradition of punching way above its weight”

“Watching Birdman we are so immersed it is easy to imagine we are backstage in a Manhattan theatre”

Traditional packages up to £2000

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

www.whathifi.com 115


Up to £2000

Monitor Audio Bronze B5 AV £1500

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best traditional package £1000-£2000, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

B&W 683 S2 Theatre £2750

Traditional packages £2000 and above

November 2014 ★★★★

We’d like a bit more authority in the bass, but we’re still delighted by the detailed, agile sound, focused surround steering and power on offer. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 22 x 59 x 30cm Finishes 2

Dali Ikon 5 Mk2 £2500 June 2014 ★★★★

Not much else at this price is as thrilling, forceful or cohesive as this. It’s clear and detailed too, even if the subwoofer seems a touch lethargic. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 15 x 57 x 26cm Finishes 2

KEF R100 5.1 £2850 Best traditional package £2000+, 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

Monitor Audio Silver 6 AV12 £2875 June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

With terrific build and finish, and a fine degree of insight and precision in the sound, these speakers work together seamlessly. A top-notch package Size (hwd) Centre speaker 19 x 50 x 24cm Finishes 6

VIDEO STREAMERS DON’T RESTRICT STREAMING TO A LAPTOP – GET IT ON THE TELLY

Google Chromecast 2 £30

Up to £50

December 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The second-gen Chromecast still ‘casts’ content from a device to a TV over wi-fi, but now with speedier operation and a performance boost. Resolution 1080p, 720p Storage No Ultra HD No

Now TV (2015) £15 Reviewed online ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Now it outputs 1080p and passes through 7.1 surround sound, NOW TV is a great way to open your doors to a plethora of Sky content. Resolution 1080p, 720p Storage n/a Ultra HD No

Amazon Fire TV (2015) £80 £50 to £150

Best streaming box, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

An improvement on the first Fire TV. For the same money you get 4K streaming, greater speed and power, and expanded storage options. Resolution Ultra HD, 1080p, 720p Storage 8GB Ultra HD Yes

Roku 3 £100 March 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Super-slick operational speeds and a plethora of content make Roku’s latest entry to its established streaming catalogue the best we’ve seen. Resolution 1080p, 720p Storage opt. 2GB microSD Ultra HD No 116 www.whathifi.com

“This may be the easiest £1500 you’ll ever spend”

“It packs a good deal of punch and a pleasing sense of scale”

“There aren’t many speaker packafes as exciting as this one. It will transform your movies and music”

“No doubt worth every penny of its asking price”

“The complete Monitor Audio Silver package is a deeply impressive performer”


SPEAKER PACKAGES CONTINUED PlayStation 4 (500GB) £300 February 2014 ★★★★

Xbox One (500GB) £300 January 2014 ★★★★

This hugely ambitious console isn’t without imperfections, and it might need time to realise its potential. For now it’s a very good games console. Resolution 1080p, 1080i, 720p Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No

£150 and above

With stacks of smart music and movie apps plus solid performance, Sony’s latest is a must-have for gamers and entertainment-seekers alike. Resolution 1080p, 720p Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No

TELEVISIONS MAKE THE FOCUS OF YOUR ENTERTAINMENT HUB A GOOD ONE

March 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It expertly ticks all the boxes you’d expect from a Full HD TV. The only issue is the availability of larger rivals at the same price. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Full HD Tuner Freeview HD

Panasonic TX-40CS520 £380

Up to 40in

Samsung UE32J6300 £380

AWARD WINNER

Best 40-46in TV under £500, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This is a great deal. It might not be flashy (there’s no 3D or 4K) but it’s packed full of features and its picture quality is best-in-class. Type LCD/LED HDMI 2 Resolution Full HD Tuner Freeview HD

August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This good-looking telly is a great advert for smaller-screen 4K, offering a fine picture and a good stack of features with it. £700 well spent. Type LCD/LED HDMI 3 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD

Samsung UE40JU7000 £880 Best 40-46in TV £500+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

40in to 50in

Panasonic TX-40CX680B £700

AWARD WINNER

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 HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freev’w/Freesat HD

www.whathifi.com 117


TELEVISIONS CONTINUED Samsung UE48J6300 £650

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

40in to 50in

Best 47-52in TV under £1000, 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 HDMI 4 Resolution Full HD Tuner Freeview HD

Samsung UE48JU7000 £1250

AWARD WINNER

Best 47-52in TV £1000+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This Samsung is special: super-sharp 4K, realistic textures, a smart interface, and a slim, attractive physique. Impressive. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freev’w/Freesat HD

Panasonic TX-50CS520 £500 October 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This Full HD TV presents a stunning picture, but the sound is good too. Add a fine interface and that £500 price becomes an act of generosity. Type LCD/LED HDMI 2 Resolution Full HD Tuner Freeview HD

Panasonic TX-50CX802B £1800 50in to 60in

September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This is an impressive 4K screen, but it also renders Full HD content with particular flair, with great upscaling being the real talent here. Type LCD/LED HDMI 3 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freev’w/Freesat HD

LG 55EG960V £3800 Best 52-60in TV £2500+, 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 HDMI 3 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD

Samsung UE55JS8500 £2100 Best 52-60in TV under £2500, 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 HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freev’w/Freesat HD

LG 65EF950V £4000 January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 HDMI 3 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD

Samsung UE65JS8500 £3000

AWARD WINNER

60in and above

Best 60in+ TV, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freev’w/Freesat HD

Samsung UE65JS9500 £5800 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Believe it or not, this 4K TV’s lavish picture, neutral colours, strong contrast, future-proof nature and ease of use make it worth every penny. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freev’w/Freesat HD

Sony KD-75X9405C £6000 January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A great, and very big telly, its stunning picture (and brilliant sound) is everything you would expect from a flagship television. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD 118 www.whathifi.com


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS The only products worth considering

PORTABLE HEADPHONES BIN THE BUNDLED BUDS, AND INVEST IN BETTER SOUND

Best in-ears under £50, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Paying £40 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

Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi £90

In-ears up to £50

SoundMagic E10S £40

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best in-ears £50-£100, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sony MDR-EX650AP £60 November 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£50 to £100

You wouldn’t think anything so small could sound so good – not for just £90. But good they sound, wonderfully smooth, expressive and balanced. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.3m

These smart buds are nicely judged tonally, with plenty of detail. Add an expansive soundstage and you’re looking at great value for money. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.2m

Focal Sphear £100 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

These Focals back that a classy design with a full-bodied, detailed sound that’s seriously engaging. They are a comfortable fit, too. In-line controls: Yes Cable length 1.2m

November 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

As comfortable in your ear as a cotton bud, the X11is deliver great sound too – exciting yet smooth and insightful. Highly recommended. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.3m

Shure SE425 £200 Best in-ears £100-£300, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£100 to £500

Klipsch X11i £200

AWARD WINNER

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

Sennheiser IE 800 £600 Best in-ears £300+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Shure SE846 £950 June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 and above

You might think it a waste to spend £600 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

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 www.whathifi.com 119


HEADPHONES CONTINUED AKG N60 NC £230 Best noise-cancelling headphones under £250, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Noise-cancelling headphones

The N60s are ultra-portable and offer effective noise-cancellation, leaving them free to present a punchy, musical, balanced sound. Quoted battery life 30 hours

Bose QuietComfort 25 £270 April 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Lindy Cromo NCX-100 £100 March 2016 ★★★★

The main draws here are good isolation and nicely judged sound – at an affordable price. Well worth considering if you’re on a budget. Quoted battery life 20 hours

PSB M4U2 £250 April 2015 ★★★★★

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

On-ears up to £100

AKG K451 £50 October 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

AKG Y50 £50

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best portable on-ears under £100, 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

AKG K550 £100 Best home on-ears under £150, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

These on-ears, relatively light and very comfy, are communicative too, natural and unforced. And they deliver bass with punch and precision. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm/6.3mm Weight 305g

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H2 £170 £100 to £200

May 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Grado SR125e £150 December 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Philips Fidelio M1MkII £135 May 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 120 www.whathifi.com


HEADPHONES CONTINUED Beyerdynamic T51i £245 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 £250 February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Best home on-ears £150-£300, 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

£200 to £300

Grado SR325e £270

Philips Fidelio X2 £230 October 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The X2s have a smooth, neutral sound, great rhythm and punchy bass. Superior design helps make them supremely comfortable too. Type Open Connection 3.5mm Weight 380g

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 £270 Best portable on-ears £200-£300, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

We love the design but it’s more than just pretty – the Momentums 2.0s are comfortable on your ears and fold neatly off them. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 240g

B&W P7 £330 September 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Shure SRH1540 £400 Best home on-ears £300+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£300 to £500

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

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

October 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

AKG Y50BT £150

AWARD WINNER

By wireless standards, they’re excellent. Clarity and insight are particular strong points, but it’s also a great design. Folding Yes Quoted battery life 20hrs+ Wireless range n/a

Philips Fidelio M2BT £185 Janaury 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Wireless up to £200

Best wireless headphone under £250, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 and above

AKG K812 £1100

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Wireless £200 and above

HEADPHONES CONTINUED AWARD WINNER

B&W P5 Wireless £330 Best wireless headphones £250+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless £380

AWARD WINNER

Best noise-cancelling headphones £250+, Awards 2015 5 ★★★★★

Take the Momentum 2.0, add aptX Bluetooth and active noise cancellation and – voilà. Very desirable. Folding No Quoted battery life 22hrs Wireless range 10m

PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS TREAT YOUR TUNES TO A DEDICATED MUSIC PLAYER

Apple iPod Touch (6th Gen) 128GB £330 Up to £400

December 2015 ★★★★★

“There’s still life in the iPod Touch yet”

There’s life in the iPod Touch yet. Its price and talent with CD-quality music makes it a worthy challenge to pricier rivals with hi-res audio. Hi-res compatible No Weight 88g Storage128GB

Sony NW-AH25N £240

“Stays composed as the music becomes complex and never sounds edgy or harsh”

February 2016 ★★★★

Likable and affordable, the AH25N boasts plenty of features and, although the ergonomics could be better, it produces a good sound. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 66g Storage 16GB

Astell & Kern Ak Jr £400

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best portable music player, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£400 to £700

Our favourite portable unit of 2015, this hi-res player isn’t cheap, but its build quality and performance make it a formidable, portable pleasure. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 93g Storage 64GB

Sony NW-ZX100HN £500

“Makes the case for high-res audio in unequivocal style”

NEW ENTRY

April 2016 ★★★★

While it’s too polite in terms of presentation, this likeable player hits the sweet spot for design, performance and price. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 145g Storage 32GB

Pioneer XDP-100R £500 February 2016 ★★★★

A player that ticks all the boxes on the hi-res checklist thanks to its excellent compatibility, massive storage and balanced sound. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 181g Storage up to 432GB

“An affordable player with a touch of premium quality”

“Gives an impression of refined detail, an even balance and a full-bodied, solid sound”

Acoustic Research M2 £900 £700 and above

June 2014 ★★★★

There are niggles with the interface and design, but this is one of the best-sounding players we’ve heard. You really need to listen to the M2. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 245g Storage 64GB

Astell & Kern AK100 MkII £700 April 2014 ★★★★

This middle-of -the-range hi-res player’s fluid, dynamic and detailed sound and extensive file compatibility far outweigh the sluggish interface. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 170g Storage 32GB

122 www.whathifi.com

“Piles on the punch and power without missing a step”

“One of the best-sounding portable high-res music players”


PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS CONTINUED “It’s a master at picking out the detail and nuance in music”

This second-gen hi-res Walkman is impressive. If you’re an audio enthusiast who takes music seriously you should take a closer look. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 235g Storage 128GB

£700 and above

Sony NW-ZX2 £950 September 2015 ★★★★

SMARTPHONES SUPERB MUSIC AND VIDEO PLAYERS THAT MAKE PHONE CALLS TOO

Best smartphone under 5in, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The iPhone 6s packs class-leading audio and video performances, a faster processor, better camera and the intuitive 3D Touch feature. OS iOS Size (hwd) 138 x 67 x 7mm Storage 16/64/128GB

Apple iPhone 6S Plus January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The best big screen iPhone yet, we heartily recommend this if you have deep pockets and are looking for a fantastic multimedia device. OS iOS Size (hwd) 158 x 78 x 7mm Storage 16/64/128GB

“As you’d expect from Apple, it all works perfectly”

Under 5in

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Apple iPhone 6S

“A confident performer and a desirable phone in its own right”

LG G4 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If its leather exterior isn’t enough to win you over, the G4’s snappy processor, stunning screen and superb camera probably will. OS Android Size (hwd) 149 x 76 x 10mm Storage 32GB & microSD

Samsung Galaxy S6 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge June 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

There’s little more than its curved screen to separate the S6 Edge from the regular S6, but it’s the very screen that makes it so desirable. OS Android Size (hwd) 149 x 76 x 10mm – Storage 32/64GB

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ Best smartphone above 5in, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

It’s pricey, but with a performance this good and a design this gorgeous, we’d pay it. It’s our favourite big screen phone. OS Android Size (hwd) 154 x76 x7mm Storage 32/64/128GB

“Its extraordinary multimedia capabilities make it a seriously tempting proposition”

“The S6 Edge is something you have to pick up and feel to really appreciate”

Over 5in

It’s lost the ability to boost the storage or change the battery, but this premium, non-plastic device offers top-quality picture and sound. OS Android Size (hwd) 143 x 71 x 7mm Storage 32/64/128GB

“We admire the G4 for daring to do something different”

“There’s no doubt that this is the big-screen phone to opt for right now”

Sony Xperia Z5 March 2016 ★★★★

We expected more in the way of innovation but, nevertheless, the Z5 is an admirable achievement that has improved sound and fast operation. OS Android Size (hwd) 146 x72 x7.3mm Storage 32GB & microSD

“A phone that offers some really good flagship-like features”

F O R A F U L L L I S T O F S P E C I F I C AT I O N S A N D O T H E R U S E F U L I N F O V I S I T W H AT H I F I . C O M www.whathifi.com 123


STREAMING APPS & SERVICES THE BEST WAY TO GET YOUR STREAMING FIX

BBC iPlayer Free

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

On demand video

Best video-on-demand service, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Quality content, a great interface and free (for catch-up TV), BBC’s iPlayer is one of, if not the best, video on-demand platforms out there. Resolution up to 1080p Offline playback Yes

Google Play Movies & TV Variable June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Google’s venture into video streaming is a success, offering pretty much everything we could ask for from an on-demand video service. Resolution Up to 1080p Offline playback Yes

7digital Variable January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

On demand music

A download site that features competitive pricing, a strong catalogue and that’s easy to use, this is one of the best music-dowload sites around. Resolution Up to 24-bit/192kHz Offline playback Yes NEW ENTRY

Qobuz Sublime £220/pa May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Qobuz Sublime is, well, sublime. Easy to use, with a diverse catalogue and competitive prices, this is a service that packs in a lot of value. Sound quality Up to 24-bit/192kHz Offline playback Yes

Technics Tracks Variable January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Offering a (very) similar experience to 7Digital, the Technics site focuses on hi-res music, which is what gives it the edge over its competition. Resolution Up to 24-bit/192kHz Offline Playback Yes

Amazon Prime Instant £6/month June 2014 ★★★★

Video apps

A very good video subscription service, its strengths lie in its strong film library, offline playback and its near-ubiquity among devices. Resolution Up to Ultra HD Offline playback Yes

Netflix £6 SD, £7.50 HD, £9 Ultra HD Best video subscription service, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Without doubt one of the most satisfying streaming services runs on practically every platform available, even on your Ultra HD television. Resolution Up to Ultra HD Offline Playback No

Now TV from £7/month June 2014 ★★★★

Music apps

Essentially a Sky service without the subscription, Now TV is a great way of getting the latest content without paying through the nose for it. Resolution Up to 1080p Offline playback No

Apple Music £10/month September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This long-awaited service from Apple has intelligent curation, a huge catalogue, good sound quality and an engaging live radio station. Sound quality Up to 256kbps AAC Offline playback Yes

124 www.whathifi.com


STREAMING APPS CONTINUED Spotify from free July 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tidal from £10/month

Music apps

The service that led the streaming revolution, its accessibility, ease of use and content are reasons Spotify remains at the top of the pile. Sound quality Up to 320kbps Ogg Vorbis Offline playback Yes AWARD WINNER

Best music streaming service, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

One of the few streaming services to offer lossless audio, Tidal’s exclusive content and curated playlists make it stand out. Sound quality Up to 1411kbps lossless Offline playback Yes

TABLETS TOUCHSCREEN HEAVEN, WITH LAPTOP SMARTS

Best tablet under 8in, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Under 8in

Apple iPad mini 4 from £320

Apple’s best small tablet yet? A superb screen, great user experience, punchy audio and fine apps make this the best small-screen tablet. OS iOS Size (hwd) 203 x 135 x 6mm Storage 16/64/128GB

Apple iPad Air 2 from £400

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best tablet 8in+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The iPad Air 2 ticks all the boxes. Best-b ar-none video and audio, an unrivalled user experience, snappy in use and a gorgeous design. OS iOS Size (hwd) 240 x 170 x 6mm Storage 16/64/128GB

Over 8in

Apple iPad Pro from £680 February 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A sharp screen and fine audio performance make the Pro a superb proposition for big-screen lovers. In this case, bigger definitely is better. OS iOS Size (hwd) 306 x 220 x 7mm Storage 32/128GB

Sony Xperia Z4 tablet £500 Reviewed online ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

An excellent screen, superb sound and lovely features. The Z4 is a great option for Android fans and, at last, a real competitor for the iPad. OS Android Size (hwd) 254 x 167 x 6mm Storage 32GB (expandable)

Build your own system with the Apple iPad Air 2 Choose th e kit that su its you best fro in-ears to m on, video an d music apps or a wireles s speaker

B&W P7

SoundCloud

Sennhesier Momentum M2 IEi

Plex mobile App

Apple iPad Air 2

B&W’s P7s or the Sennheiser M2s both make great audio partners and SoundCloud is terrific for discovering new musical talent. Plex will suit all your media needs and the Play:5 sounds great at volume.

Sonos Play:5

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BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS The only products worth considering

ACCESSORIES ANALOGUE INTERCONNECTS DON’T SKIMP ON CABLES: THEY’RE A TOP-VALUE UPGRADE

Atlas Element Integra £45 November 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £50

An Award-winner three years on the trot, this cable digs up detail and isn’t fussy about the kit it’s used with. A great first upgrade. Balanced/Single Single

Chord C-Line £45

Best analogue interconnect, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Few entry-level interconnects at the price come close to offering the sonic enjoyment that Chord has produced with this cable. Balanced/Single Single

QED Performance Audio 40 £45

NEW ENTRY

Reviewed online ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£50 and above

If you covet space and detail along with sure but nimble footwork and heaps of insight, all for less than £50, look no further. Balanced/Single Single

QED Reference Audio 40 £85 June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

An engaging interconnect that’s capable of expressing the dynamics and nuances of a track, and which has reassuring build quality. Balanced/Single Single

AV & HI-FI RACKS

Up to £500

HI-FI KIT CAN ONLY SOUND ITS BEST WITH THE PROPER SUPPORT

Atacama Eris Eco 5.0 £460 April 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Whatever hi-fi you have will sound agile, detailed and dynamic on this. If that’s not all, the Eco is well built, easy to construct and looks smart. Width 590mm Modular Yes Cable management No

Atacama Elite Eco 12.0 £500

£500 to £800

March 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Those looking for a strong support for AV and hi-fi that enables a fluid, authoritative presentation will like the performance this rack can offer. Width 1157mm Modular Yes Cable management Yes

Atacama Evoque Eco 60-40 SE £525

AWARD WINNER

Best equipment support, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The SE stands for Special Edition, while significant improvements in the Eco 60-40’s design and dampening mean it works better than ever. Width 600mm Modular Yes Cable management No 126 www.whathifi.com

“A great-performing, well-built and well-priced kit rack”

“We were impressed by how our system performed when using this rack”

“If you’re of the opinion all hi-fi racks are created more or less equal, think again”


AV & HI-FI RACKS CONTINUED “The Podium XL comes across as a well-made piece of furniture”

June 2010 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Made for home cinema, this large rack can take a 65in TV and with performance that has more weight and top-end refinement than most. Width 800 to 1200mm Modular Yes Cable management No

£800 and above

Hi-Fi Racks Podium XL £1050

HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS HOW TO GET THE VERY BEST FROM YOUR CANS

Meridian Prime £1200 February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £1500

A supremely capable headphone amp which doubles as a talented, if feature limited, stereo amplifier. Treat the DAC as a nice bonus. Outputs 3.5mm, 6.3mm Inputs RCA,3.5mm, USB

Pathos Aurium £850 August 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A top-class choice for amplification, but you’ll need a source and a pair of headphones of similar quality if you want the best from it. Outputs 6.3mm, XRL, RCA Inputs XLR, 3 RCA

MAINS PRODUCTS A CLEAN POWER SOURCE IS VITAL FOR INTERFERENCE-FREE HI-FI Olson Sound Fantastic HF6 £135 September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £200

Grants a system far greater freedom of expression without sacrificing control or authority. If you can afford to, buy it without reservations. Type Block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6

Tacima CS947 £45 September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Great value, the highlight being how well it allows for greater detail, attack and dynamics. For the price, it’s a brilliant entry-level purchase. Type Block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6

“Silver Streak produces masses of detail with no strain or unpleasant edge to the sound. The music is reproduced with excellent accuracy and clarity.” Hi Fi Choice, Jan ‘16

BUY YOURS NOW!

From £221 for 0.5m pair Kimber Silver Streak analogue interconnect

Call: 01539 797300

or visit www.kimberkable.co.uk

60 DAY MONEY BACK GUARANTEE

F R O M

R U S S

A N D R E W S

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Up to £200

MAINS PRODUCTS CONTINUED NEW ENTRY

Audioquest Jitterbug £40 April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Though it looks insubstantial, when plugged into a USB port it works wonders filtering signal noise to allow a more solid and precise sound. Type USB Mains filter No No. of plugs n/a

Isotek EVO Polaris + Premier cable £400 £200 and above

September 2015 ★★★★

Offers a significant improvement over just plugging your hi-fi into the wall, allowing your system to sound more positive and confident. Type Cable + block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6

Russ Andrews X6 £350 September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

No matter what the source material, the X6 helps unearth a revealing, well-integrated listen, allowing your kit to be as explicit as it can be. Type Block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6

PHONO AMPLFIERS EVERY RECORD DECK NEEDS A PHONO AMP

Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator £160 Up to £200

June 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Fast, organised and dynamic, this box offers great quality on a budget. The Gram Amp 2 Communicator is low on frills but high on quality. Type MM Dimensions (hwd) 7 x 10 x 25cm

Rega Fono Mini A2D £85 March 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£200 to £1000

There’s little fancy about the Fono Mini A2D but that doesn’t matter when the presentation is this good. And it has a useful USB output. Type MM Dimensions (hwd) 6 x 18 x 25cm AWARD WINNER

Rega Fono MM Mk2 £200 Best phono stage, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Although it lacks the detail of other similarly priced phono amps, the Rega Fono more than justifies its price in terms of dynamics and scale. Type MM Dimensions (hwd) 7 x 4 x 33cm

CS947 New Mains Conditioner out now! s Mains Conditioning s Screened Mains Lead

CS947, Sept 2015

s 3 Channel Surge protection with added Gas Tube technology s Status Button to test for degradation by Lightning etc.

128 www.whathifi.com

Available instore or online

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PHONO AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED Rega Aria £800 A phono stage of rare quality under £1000, the Rega Aria will perform superbly – as long as the rest of your system is suitably talented. Type MM, MC Dimensions (hwd) 8 x 22 x 32cm NEW ENTRY

May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Partnered with the PSX-R2 power supply and a suitably talented turntable, the Signature sounds great. It’s a top-class phono stage. Type MM, MC Dimensions (hwd) 7 x 22 x 36cm

£1000 and above

Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2 £1900

£200 to £1000

December 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

SPEAKER CABLES ONE OF THE MOST COST-EFFECTIVE UPGRADES YOU CAN MAKE

Audioquest FLX-SLiP 14/4 £5.80/m November 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

QED Ruby Anniversary Evolution £6/m March 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £10/m

Not only is the FLX-SLiP 14/4 able to turn a corner no matter how tight, lest we forget, it’s also an incredibly easy cable to listen to as well. Single or Bi-wire Single

Capable of delivering a jolt of excitement to a hi-fi system, but can emphasise any harshness present in bright-sounding electronics. Single or Bi-wire Single

www.whathifi.com 129


Up to £10/m

SPEAKER CABLES CONTINUED Wireworld Luna 7 £6.50/m March 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A fine speaker cable, the Luna’s exciting presentation and all-round ability means it should sit well with a wide range of systems. Single or Bi-wire Single

Chord Clearway £10/m

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

£10/m and above

Best speaker cable, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Not the flashiest cable, its strength is aiding dynamics and musicality, as well as knitting instruments together for an enjoyable experience. Single or Bi-wire Single

QED XT40 £10/m Awards 2014 ★★★★★

Facilitates a detailed, balanced and authoritative sound with a full-bodied presentation that leaves competitors sounding lean. Single or Bi-wire Single

SPEAKER STANDS STAND-MOUNT SPEAKERS NEED THE BEST SUPPORT YOU CAN GET

Atacama Duo 6 £65 February 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £200

Easy to assemble (we suggest you mass-load the stand), these Atacamas help produce a detailed, clear and energetic sound. Top plate size (wd) 130 x 170mm Height 60cm Fillable Yes

Atacama Moseco 6 £120

AWARD WINNER

Best speaker stand, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A speaker stand that impresses with how weighty and dynamic it allows systems to sound. Considering the price, it’s something of a steal. Top plate size (wd) 130 x 170mm Height 60cm Fillable Yes

“Really good at letting a system to do its job properly”

“The Mosecos may just be our new favourite affordable speaker stands”

Soundstyle Z2 £70 November 2008 ★★★★★

An ideal stand if you’re on a budget, the Z2s can boost your speakers’ detail, attack and openess for less than £100. Top plate size (hwd) 125 x 166 x 3mm Height 57cm Fillable No

Custom Design FS104 Signature £200 £200 and above

September 2011 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A stylish, reasonably priced stands that work across a variety of speakers. Buy Custom Design’s Inert Filler (£20) for the best results. Top plate size (hwd) 220 x 260 x 4mm Height 60cm Fillable Yes

Q Acoustics 20 speaker stands £200 September 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Designed with QAs’ Concept 20 speakers in mind, the clever construction and elegant design ensures other speakers give their best too. Top plate size (hd) n/a Height 66.5cm Fillable No

“The Z2 does everything right at a reasonable price”

“There’s something elegant in the Signature’s simplicity”

“£200 for a pair of speaker stands? When they’re this good, we don’t mind”

F O R A F U L L L I S T O F S P E C I F I C AT I O N S A N D O T H E R U S E F U L I N F O V I S I T W H AT H I F I . C O M 130 www.whathifi.com


DEALER FINDER COVENTRY

131

CHESHIRE | COVENTRY | CUMBRIA | EAST YORKSHIRE | LONDON | SUFFOLK

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Centrally located in the heart of the midlands, we not only offer some of the very best prices, but pride ourselves on the excellence of our service too. Why not call into our large three storey16th Century showroom for a demonstration in one of our three demo rooms where you can audition some of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s best analogue and digital Hi Fi and AV equipment, plus we stock one of the UKâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s largest ranges of loudspeakers.

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EAST MIDLANDS | INTERNET | LONDON | N.EAST | N.YORKSHIRE | SURREY | W.MIDS | W.YORKSHIRE

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www.grahams.co.uk | Tel: 020 7226 5500 Canonbury Yard - 190a New North Road - London N1 7BS

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DEMONSTRATION AND INSTALL SERVICE AVAILABLE

www.ericwiley.co.uk 01977 556774 / 553066

64 & 85 Beancroft Road, Castleford, WF10 5BS

SURREY

To advertise here please call

INTERNET

020 8267 5521 or email jessica.sarfas@haymarket.com WEST MIDLANDS

37 High Street, Aldridge 01922 457926

Exposure Heed Kudos Lehmann Linn Marantz Michell Monitor Audio Naim Neat Nordost Okki Nokki Ortofon Project REL Roksan Ample Parking Tue-Sat 10 - 5.30pm

www.soundcinergy.co.uk

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AVON | CHESHIRE | EAST SUSSEX | EXETER | LONDON | NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

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Haymarket Media Group, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham TW1 3SP EDITORIAL 020 8267 5000 Editor-in-chief Andy Clough Editor Simon Lucas Digital editor Joe Cox Managing editor Jonathan Evans International technical editor Ketan Bharadia Multimedia editor Verity Burns Content editor Andy Madden First tests editor Kashfia Kabir News editor Ced Yuen Staff writers Andrew Murphy, Becky Roberts News writer Max Langridge Buyer’s Guide editor Kobina Monney Sub-editor Jon Crampin Art editor Simon Bowles Designer Kayleigh Pavelin Photographer Steve Waters Video editor Pete Brown THANKS THIS ISSUE Andy Puddifoot ADVERTISING 020 8267 5976 Commercial brand manager Chloe McDowell Sales manager Liz Reid Display sales executive Joshua McGonigle Retail sales executive Jessica Sarfas Global sales manager Amardeep Mangat Special projects manager Julie Hassan Advertising director Steve Nicolaou Tech business development director Mike Walsh PRODUCTION & PLANNING 020 8267 5000 Production manager Anthony Davis Production controller Katrina Renwick

EN AYSM3TJULH W T A TH Y 1997 UR RC ME Y TANNO

M3: start of the road

OVERSEAS LICENSING 020 8267 5024 Licensing and syndication Isla Friend MANAGEMENT Group publishing manager Ollie Stretton Brand director Alastair Lewis Editorial director Mark Payton Managing director David Prasher

Tannoy’s budget floorstanders SUBSCRIPTIONS 0344 848 8813 Tannoy is best known for its proudly retro yet truly charismatic Prestige speaker range. Rightly so, as these products have long offered qualities sorely lacking in most modern rivals. But that affinity for top-end products hasn’t stopped the brand from trying to compete at budget price points too. It hasn’t always succeeded – the cut-price world of budget speakers doesn’t lend itself easily to Tannoy’s quality-led ethos, or allow the use of its clever dual-concentric driver technology. Take away this trademark tech and it becomes hard for the company to stand out. That doesn’t mean Tannoy can’t challenge. The brand new Eclipse Threes (p16) are excellent, delivering a combination of brute force and subtlety most rivals struggle to match. This isn’t the first time Tannoy has come up with brilliant budget floorstanders, though. Back in 1997,

138 www.whathifi.com

the Mercury M3s were taller versions of the highly rated M2 standmounters, using slightly tweaked drivers and crossovers in taller cabinets. The results were excellent. Those M3s were refined and unfussy performers – ideal qualities for speakers likely to be partnered with less-than-sophisticated budget electronics. But partnered with care they could deliver a sweet, informative sound that brimmed with dynamic expression and cohesion. The current Eclipse Threes strike an even more convincing balance. Punchier and more insightful, they latch onto a rhythm with more conviction than their ancestors. Consider the Eclipses cost just £70 more than the M3s did in 1997 and Tannoy’s achievement is all the more impressive.

email: help@whathifi.themagazineshop.com What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision (incorporating VTV, Audiophile, Hi-Fi Answers, High Fidelity, Which Hi-Fi?, DVD, What CD? & What MP3?) is published by Haymarket Consumer Media Ltd, a subsidiary of Haymarket Media Group Ltd. What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, ISSN no. 0309333X, is published monthly (with an extra Awards issue) by Haymarket Media Group, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham TW1 3SP, UK. Airfreight, mailing in USA by Air Business Ltd, c/o Worldnet Shipping Inc., 156-15, 146th Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11434, USA. Periodicals postage paid at Jamaica NY 11431. Subscriptions records maintained at Haymarket Media Group, Twickenham, TW1 3SP. We take every care when compiling the contents of this magazine, but assume no responsibility for effects arising therefrom. Adverts accepted in good faith as correct at time of going to press. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the publisher. © 2015 Haymarket Media Group Ltd, all rights reserved. Circulation trade enquiries Frontline Ltd, Park House, Park Rd, Peterborough PE1 2TR. Tel 01733 555 161. Subscriptions & Back issue requests: Haymarket Counsumer, 3 Queensbridge, Northampton, NN4 7BF Email: help@whathifi.themagazineshop.com Tel: 0344 848 8813/+44 (0)1604 251462.

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Tannoy’s Eclipse Threes (reviewed in this issue on p16) are brilliant descendents of the budget Mercury M3

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