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FIRST TEST New Marantz CD player – return of the king


WIN! A Q Acoustics soundbar worth £300! See p71 for details



MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Great new £160 speakers November 2016 £4.99



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Sweet and fine. Pure and simple and sublime. Simon Lucas, editor

“Purity and simplicity are the two wings with which man soars above the earth.” It may seem a stretch to apply an ecclesiastical quotation from the 15th century to the world of home entertainment and hi-fi, but bear with me. I’m going to give it a go. Purity of purpose has long been a hi-fi Holy Grail. Make a product’s functions few, and let it do them without interference. A high-end CD player (for example) may put power supply, disc transport and digital-to-analogue conversion in separate boxes. That’s hardly the last word in convenience, though, and the six-way test of great new stereo amps (p40) proves the point: products like this used to amplify and have volume control. Then headphone outputs crept in. And now some brands won’t come to market without a hi-res DAC and Bluetooth wireless connectivity strapped on. It all depends on your priorities. I’d sooner sacrifice functions before performance, but you may feel differently. Either way, we can help you achieve audio transcendence.

My product of the month Dali Katch (p54) I’d like convenience, performance, tactility, and great design in a product that advances the sector in which it competes, please. I’d like a choice of colours. And good battery life. I don’t mind if it has a dat name. Oh, thanks Dali.

Experience. Heritage. We’ve been helping the world discover the best in hi-fi and home entertainment for nearly 40 years, and have more than 100 years of reviewing experience under our collective belts – so you can count on our expert opinion.

Dedicated test facilities We test every product against its peers in our brand-new, bespoke reviewing facility at our Twickenham HQ. We test every product as a team – our opinions and conclusions are always the result of collaboration. Reference kit Naim CDS3/NDS/UnitiServe/555 PS; Clearaudio Innovation Wood; Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2; GamuT D3i/D200i; ATC SCM50; Cambridge CXU; Panasonic DMP-UB900; Pioneer SC-LX59; Epson EH-TW7200; PMC Twenty23; KEF R50; Sky+ HD

NEXT MONTH AWARDS 2016 26 product categories! 99 Awardwinners! The best of everything, exclusively revealed! Awards 2016 issue ON SALE 18th October

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@whathifi 5


“If anything is going to coax us CONTENTS away from our central heating and indoor hi-fi system, it’s likely to be one of these” Page 52





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







Shure KSE1500




Revel Concerta2 M16





Are these Missions the best sub-£200 speakers?

A (literally) sharp and refined hi-res player

Arcam AVR-390


Denon AVR X3300W (Below)


Yamaha RX-A3060







Free at last! The B&W P7s go wireless

Audiolab M-ONE



Cyrus One


Not just the heart of a system, the brains too

Heed Audio Elixir


NAD C 368


Rega Elex-R


Rotel A14


SOUNDBARS Philips Fidelio B1


Bluesound Pulse Soundbar


SURROUND PACKAGES ATC 5.1 speaker package


SYSTEMS Tangent Ampster X4 BT





Two titans clash in this AV receiver face-off

Electrostatic in-ears? They’re a Shure thing


FINDTHE BEST KIT AROUND,FAST! Our verdicts on every product worth owning, p77




Geneva AeroSphère Small


JBL Charge 3




Onkyo X9


YAMAHA RX-A3060 “An AV receiver with a premium price and the performance to match, it’ll give your film collection a new lease of life” Becky Roberts, Staff writer 7





Mission LX-2 | Stereo speakers | £160

Mission accomplished with the magic LX-2s KEY FEATURES

FOR Verve and insight; strong dynamics; good build and finish

AGAINST Need care in partnering

Want a list of the best speakers at less than £200? For most of this year it would have been a shortlist comprising just a single name: the Q Acoustics 3020. Nothing we’ve heard has come close to knocking these talented speakers off their perch, until now. Yes, Mission’s LX-2s are good enough to give the Qs a fat lip – and we don't mind admitting it’s something of a surprise. A decade or so ago it wouldn’t have been. Back then, Mission dominated our group tests and Awards, particularly at the more affordable end of the market. But the brand hasn’t delivered over recent years, turning out decent but hardly class-leading boxes. The LX-2s buck that trend.

It helps also that this upside-down arrangement makes these standmounters stand out from the competition too. That tweeter is a 25mm microfibre dome. It’s coupled to the 13cm fibre composite mid/bass through a single-wire crossover. The crossover is a fourth-order design, carefully calibrated to optimise off-axis performance while keeping the on-axis sound balanced. The Mission design team spent a great deal of effort trying different

Working the old magic The LX-2s are a product of a rethink at IAG, Mission’s parent company. IAG also owns speaker brands Wharfedale, Quad and Castle (remember them?), and Mission hasn’t thrived in such an environment. IAG decided the brand needed a dedicated design team, and hired people who had worked with Mission in the past in the hope that some of the old magic could be resurrected. These speakers even look a little like Missions of old, most obviously with the use of the brand’s traditional tweeter-below-the-mid/bass configuration. Mission claims this arrangement aids the time alignment between the drivers – the sound from each unit arrives at the listener better synchronised – so helping integration.


The single-wired route makes sense at this budget. It allows funds to be concentrated on good-quality cable

★★★★★ components to optimise the results. The single-wire route makes sense, particularly at budget price levels. It allows funds to be concentrated on a good quality run of speaker cable rather than splitting it between two cheaper alternatives.

Back to basics Neither drive unit looks particularly exciting on paper, but they’re carefully developed to deliver sound with low distortion and an even response. A great deal of care has been taken to ensure consistency between samples, which is not always the case at budget levels. The cabinet has been carefully designed too. Budget constraints mean there’s no place for hi-tech materials or extravagant engineering solutions to controlling cabinet resonances, so the designers have gone back to basics and come up with a wooden box that provides a solid platform for the drive units to work off. The cabinet is well built. Its small size – the LX-2s stand just over 30cm tall – ensures a degree of rigidity that’s hard to get from larger enclosures. Finish is neat, and up to the standards we expect at the price. We like the understated visual design touches that make the speakers look rather classy. Positioning is easy, just as it should be for speakers that are as likely to find themselves parked on a crowded bookshelf as on top of a


A new design team at Mission has restored some of the old magic – the LX-2s even look like Missions of old

“The Mission LX-2s get right to the heart of the music, almost as if they have a direct line to the studio. That’s a rare quality regardless of price” 9



IN DETAIL... This exploded diagram shows how the mid/bass unit is formed. Mission has taken a great deal of care to optimise the motor system and cone behaviour

pair of dedicated stands. Ideally, you should put them on the stands as they sound much better that way. In our test room we get the most balanced presentation with the LX-2s placed close to a rear wall, but not right up against it. The speaker’s rear-firing port needs space behind to work properly. Speakers at this price are as likely to be driven by a micro system such as the Denon DM-40DAB as they are dedicated separates


Inverted tweeter position

IN DETAIL... Close to wall position

Single wire

The mid/bass driver uses a 13cm fibre-composite cone

The LX-2s are single-wired, but that's no hardship at this level


“The LX-2s deliver a huge slice of fun that few rivals come close to. Partner carefully and they’ll turn in a performance that’s sure to get a smile on your face” kit from the likes of Onkyo or Marantz. This means in an ideal world they will be easy to drive and unfussy about partnering kit while still having enough transparency to allow better-sounding separates kit to shine. That’s a difficult balancing act that few manage well. The Missions do a fair job in this respect, but we think their Q Acoustics rivals are more forgiving thanks to greater refinement at high frequencies and a richer, sweeter presentation. But don’t let that put you off. Partner these Missions with a bit of care and they’re as entertaining a budget box as we’ve heard in years.

Worth the wait They get right to the heart of the music, as if the Missions have a direct line to the studio. That’s a rare quality regardless of price. Play alt-J’s Left Hand Free and the LX-2s get straight in the groove. They’re fast, pack a serious punch and deliver deep bass with precision and authority. Best of all, they deliver the song’s hard-charging rhythm track with skill and enthusiasm. These speakers time well, communicating changes in momentum convincingly. Through it all they don’t forget the subtleties. The group’s vocals are clear, easy to follow and packed with energy. Nuances are rendered with finesse and the mass of instrumentation and voices is organised well. At no point do they sound like they’ve taken on more than they can handle. John Williams’s Jurassic Park shows off the LX-2s’ pleasing large-scale dynamics. Their composure impresses too, as they refuse to sound confused even when pushed to relatively high levels.

Tonally, they’re well balanced, but there’s just a touch of edge through the upper mid/lower treble area that can be provoked by less-than perfect recordings or aggressive-sounding partnering kit. It’s something to watch out for rather than damning criticism. Stereo imaging is good too, with a pleasing stability to the presentation. We like the even spread of sound and the fact the presentation remains consistent from a wide range of listening positions. It has been a few years since we could really get behind a Mission product. The LX-2s were originally intended to sell at £200: for that price we would still have praised their performance and recommended them highly. At the revised price of £160, of course, they’re an even bigger bargain and deliver a huge slice of fun that few rivals can get close to. Take just a little care in partnering equipment and they’ll turn in a performance that’s sure to get a smile on your face. Well done, Mission. These are worth the wait.



VERDICT The LX-2s are the best Mission product we’ve heard in years and some of the best budget speakers around


Astell & Kern AK70 | Music player | £500

click here to view offer

“Subtlety, wed with balance and precision” You don’t need a keen eye to notice that the AK70 music player is an Astell & Kern creation. A familiar rectangular aluminium block with straight edges, sharp corners and a prominent volume dial, it’s A&K all over. What you might question, however, is its colour. The AK70 ditches the traditional safe silver finish for a cool shade of blue (or is it green?) the company calls ‘misty mint’. What hasn’t changed, though, is the brand’s habit of turning out great products.

the player. And along with the standard 3.5mm jack there’s a 2.5mm TRRS socket to cater for balanced headphones. There’s also a new 3.3in AMOLED touchscreen, which is bright enough for the crispness and saturation of the album art on ELO’s Out Of The Blue to leap off the screen. The high contrast does the same for the whites in David Bowie’s Blackstar. It’s a clear step up in maturity over the Jr when it comes to the interface too, to the point it’s almost phone-like. We say ‘phone-like’ because, like Sony’s Walkmans, the AK70 adopts the familiar Android operating system. And ‘almost’ because, unlike Walkmans, it omits the Google apps and Play Store you’d find on an Android-running smartphone or tablet, which means more pertinent menus and less unwanted bloatware for music player purists.

Becoming the middleman You could say it comes as little surprise. After all, it does replace a 2015 Product of the Year, the soon-to-be-deceased AK Jr, as the brand’s entry-level player. This new model costs £100 more than its predecessor, but that’s still relatively affordable when you compare it with the brand’s flagship £3000 model. A&K is confident this is the ‘most sophisticated hi-res music player you can

“In a first for A&K, the AK70 also doubles up as a DAC, for a better sound quality” buy under £500’ (the AK70 is £499), and as it turns out it’s not blowing smoke. Before you even start listening, you know you’re getting a lot for your money here. The AK70 still supports PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz (32-bit iles are downsampled) and DSD 64/128 by way of converting files to 24-bit/176kHz PCM; it features a built-in microSD card slot, which lets you increase the 64GB of onboard storage by up to 200GB; and it has Bluetooth for streaming to headphones and wireless speakers. And, in a first for an A&K player, it can also double as a digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), becoming a middleman between your computer and headphones/ speakers for better sound quality. There’s wi-fi too, to accommodate software updates and allow music to be streamed to and from


Another fine mess It’s still very obviously Android – and we mean that favourably. It’s so responsive and lends itself t player’s functionality. From the usual pull-down menu you can open settings and search for songs. It’s also where you’ll find repeat and shuffle functions, which eased our initial concerns after not finding them on the playback screen. That makes it less cluttered, allowing album art to fill over half the screen without overshadowing track information (including file type and size). Another nice addition is the discreet dot i the bottom quarter – a shortcut back to home so yo don’t have to use the back button to escape folders. Placed next to each another, the Jr and AK70

★★ ★ ★ ★ look rather like Laurel and Hardy, the former tall and slim, the latter short and stout. The dimensional discrepancies boil down to just a few centimetres, but it means the AK70 should easily fit into a jeans pocket. The size is practical and though the sharp corners and edges could do with a little tapering (you might want to consider the dedicated leather case), it’s elegant – particularly the back panel’s smooth, shimmery patterned detail, on which the greeny-blue finish looks especially lovely. This time the trademark volume dial sits more prominently in a sloped panel on the front right-hand side. The eagle-eyed will notice the slight curve, which has been designed so your thumb rolls over it from the front rather than from the side, as was the case with the Jr. The volume goes just as ear-shatteringly high as the AK Jr – the AK70 certainly didn’t need to trump its successor in that department. Similarities between the two

KEY FEATURES 24 bit -192 kHz

Hi-Res audio



AGAINST Rather sharp edges and corners


FOR Natural balance; talented DAC; striking design

64GB Memory

The slight curve on the volume dial is designed for your thumb to roll over from the front of the unit

A&K’s traditional silver finish has been ditched for a cool shade of blue (or green?) called ‘misty mint’

A 3.3in AMOLED touchscreen is bright enough for the album art to leap off the screen

“A&K is confident this is the most sophisticated hi-res music player you can buy under £500” makes Max Richter’s Richter: Patterns (cypher) sound so absorbing. Each piano note drips through the pensively heavyhanded sequence with purpose and dynamic resolve, while the bass bubbles underneath with a suitably ominous depth and presence.

Evolutionary zeal In its DAC disguise, where its appetite is sated at 24-bit/96kHz, it’s just as useful, more than matching the punch, clarity and detail levels of the AudioQuest DragonFly Black USB DAC (£90). Even a Spotify stream of Poliça’s Lately highlights the benefits of its presence: it picks out flurries of synths that open the track with far greater assuredness than a Macbook’s headphone output. To boot, bass has more body and clout, and the processed vocal more prowess. The sonic improvements made by the AK70 over the Jr are more evolutionary than revolutionary but, combined with additional features and a more mature interface, that is easily enough to lock down another five stars for Astell & Kern. And who knows, it may be in line for another What Hi-Fi? Award too.

continue into tonal character: it’s just as pleasingly energetic, open and dynamic, although gains in clarity, space and expression don’t go unnoticed in a 24-bit/192kHz version of Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ This Year’s Girl. Syncopated drumming is not only fuller, there’s more texture around each strike as the AK70 kicks at all the right accents. There’s more space between them, and the shakers, electric guitar and vocal too

(without losing the rhythmic cohesion that makes A&Ks such effortlessly musical creatures) and things are not in any way upset by the keyboard’s late entrance. The midrange opens up that bit more, so the cool vocals aren’t swallowed up by the densely fluid instrumentation, instead savoured with that much more nuance. It’s that subtlety, wed with a natural sense of balance and precision, which



VERDICT As A&K’s new entry-level music player, the AK70 had to be better than the last one. And it manages that with ease 13


The Ampster X4 is an entry-level system, comprising Tangent's Spectrum X4 speakers and a bite-sized amp

Even Mr McGregor of Beatrix Potter fame had to start his garden somewhere. Long before he regularly chased Peter Rabbit and friends away with his rake, he presumably built it from scratch. Maybe starting with a couple of pot plants. For Mr McGregor’s garden, read Tangent Ampster X4: a kind of grow-your-own hi-i, consisting of a bitesized stereo amp and pair of standmounters. Despite its diminutive stature the amp is well equipped, with Bluetooth 4.0, optical and line inputs; all you need is a smartphone to stream your music, but it leaves scope for adding a CD player or turntable, or even amplifying your TV. The speakers in this package are Tangent’s Spectrum X4, available in black or white with a slim wooden base. We sit them on a couple of Atacama speaker stands, but Tangent is happy for you to place them on a bookshelf, or chip in a bit extra for wall or ceiling mounts. At 27.5cm tall, they won't take up heaps of room.

Assault on your ears Even in that compact shell you’re treated to a 25mm tweeter, 10cm bass/midrange driver and rear-firing reflex port, so don’t anticipate timidity. The only thing really

Tangent Ampster X4 | Hi-fi system | £300

“Sweat-drenched, knuckle bruised” FOR Bold presentation; lots of features; good entry level hi-fi

AGAINST Rather forward presentation

lightweight about this package is the remote, but we can’t have any complaints at this price. It works perfectly well. To begin, we load up Tidal and stream Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes’ acerbic debut album Blossom and are nearly blown backwards from our seats. There’s no pride in being coy upon delivering an opening track named Juggernaut, and this Tangent’s presentation is fittingly vigorous. From the song’s volatile opening, through Carter’s shrieking vocal and its sweat-drenched, knuckle-bruised breakdown, the Spectrum X4 is armed with the artillery to maintain this assault on our ears. But we ought not paint the performance as one-dimensional. Timing, in particular, is impressive given the weight and girth of

the sound, and the amount of body and bottom end Tangent has worked hard to offer. Sometimes it lacks a bit of space, but the arrangement is never cluttered and the Spectrum X4 is sharp and fleet-footed enough to keep up with the frenetic pace. Taking things down a notch with John Frusciante’s eclectic To Record Only Water For Ten Days, the Tangent showcases its nuance and satisfying attention to detail. The presentation is still forward, and we find ourselves wanting a little restraint and a greater hold of dynamics, but for a £300 system we are very much entertained and content with the versatility on offer. As we vary inputs, preamplifying Rega’s Planar 1 turntable as a suitable companion and plugging our laptops in with an aux cable, there are the expected variations in quality and nature of the sound, but its general personality is unchanged. For an entry-level amp with decent connectivity, that consistency is a notable achievement. Of course, when we switch the speakers for Q Acoustics’ Award-winning 3020s, the improvement is immediately obvious; there’s greater space, detail and delicacy with dynamics. You could pair the

“For a £300 system, we are very much entertained and content with the versatility the X4 has to offer” 14


190 x 52 x 139mm

10cm bass/ midrange driver

Q Acoustics with our cheapest Awardwinning stereo amplifier, the Onkyo A-9010, for £390 and get a better-rounded overall sound but, as well as forgoing features such as Bluetooth and the Tangent’s compactness, that almost 30 per cent price hike is still quite a distance. In many ways, that reaffirms the Ampster X4’s place among entry-level hi-fi. Here you’re getting a starter system, with amp and speakers already matched, gaining a bunch of features and the scope to upgrade as and when you can. We’ve been terrifically entertained by the Tangent, and that is the best endorsement we can give.

says 25mm tweeter


VERDICT If you want a quality mini-system or to start building something with greater scope, the X4 should be on your shortlist


Geneva AeroSphère Small | Wireless speaker | £350

Singing AeroSphère’s praises FOR Rich sound; impressive dynamics; multi-room options

AGAINST Expensive stand

★★★★★ The AeroSphère Small is the smaller twin of the AeroSphère Large – and the two share many of the same characteristics

“It’s small, it’s round, it makes a lovely sound: AeroSphère, AeroSphère.” And if Geneva isn’t satisfied with a five-star review that opens with a What Hi-Fi?-penned football chant, then frankly there's no hope. If you’re experiencing any sort of déjà-vu at this point, it’s because this is the smaller sibling of Geneva’s Awardwinning AeroSphère Large. Hold this one close to your face and put its sibling further away: it’s near impossible to tell the difference, as we can say with some authority. It’s only a sense of journalistic pride stopping us from copy-and-pasting the old review, altering a few specs and heading off for an early lunch.

perhaps, but for long-term listening we’d opt for the AeroSphère. Take it down a few notches with Andy Hull and Robert McDowell’s mostly acapella soundtrack for Swiss Army Man, and Geneva proves its ability to create speakers that make you want to dance and yet have the nuance to express dynamic soundscapes. The swells wash over us with a combination of wholesome, detailed warmth and delicate expression. It's an impressive performance by a speaker with so many rivals in this area of the market.

Mix and match The pair are matched in terms of features: you can connect the AeroSphère to your music library via Bluetooth 2.1 with aptX, AirPlay or DLNA, and there’s the option of analogue connection via its 3.5mm jack. If you want to mix and match, the AeroSphère Base (£450), as well as adding radio and a CD player, will allow you to marry up to four of these Geneva speakers to play at the same time. We’re also pleased to find the same classy, tactile remote control in the AeroSphère Small’s box. As you’d expect, there are differences beneath the shell. The AeroSphère Large boasts two 25mm tweeters, two 10cm mid/ bass drivers and an up-firing 12.5cm subwoofer, powered by five Class D digital amplifiers. The Small downscales that armoury to one each of tweeter and mid/ bass driver, powered by a pair of amplifiers. It’s more petite and less powerful but, given this company’s mastery of designing Award-winning wireless speakers, we ought not presume it to be devoid of similar talents.

Your arsenal We said about Geneva senior that we wanted to wrap our arms around its bulbous head. Yet, as we play Grimes’s Art Angels, the AeroSphère Small stretches out to welcome us with those familiar rich tones. The sound is slighter, perhaps, but the general characteristics are satisfyingly the same. The kick on tracks such as California is thick and driving, giving these sundrenched alt-pop gems the impetus to make us move. That has a lot to do with timing; the AeroSphère isn't exactly light-footed, with lots of low end giving the impression of a larger speaker, but it is more than capable of keeping the tempo. Play it next to the Model S Wireless DAB+, another Award winner from Geneva at this price, and not only is there greater girth to the soundstage but it shaves off any hard edges to the treble. It isn’t as clean,




If you really want to make the most of the AeroSphère family, you’re looking at more than this speaker’s £350 price tag – there's the Base to add the Model S’s radio facilities and a CD player, while a stand will cost an extra £150 for each speaker you add to your arsenal – but there’s no reason you can’t have an entertaining, immersive experience with what's in the box. If we were looking for the best possible multi-room system, we’d be tempted to start with one of these speakers and build from there. Now we need to copyright that song in case Geneva wants to use it in its AeroSphère adverts.



Rating ★★ ★ ★★ SOUND FEATURES

“Geneva has proven its ability to create speakers that make you want to dance and yet also have the nuance to express dynamic soundscapes”


VERDICT The AeroSphère Small shares many of the characteristics of its Awardwinning brother, only in a smaller body 15


JBL Charge 3 | Wireless speaker | £150

click here to view offer

Hard-charger packs a punch FOR Weighty, balanced sound; design; build; features;

AGAINST Lacks a little openness and subtlety

★★★★★ Effortlessly portable, the JBL delivers a weighty sound that suits outdoor listening

It doesn’t take a sleuth of Sherlock Holmes’ stature to uncover the killer feature of the JBL Charge 3. The clue is in the name. This portable Bluetooth speaker is blessed with a 6000mAh battery, which doesn’t only allow the speaker to tick over for the best part of 20 hours, but can also be used to resuscitate a flagging smartphone or tablet. As long as you have the relevant USB cable to hand, you can connect your device to the USB socket on the back of the speaker and piggy-back the built-in battery. The feature is by no means unique to the JBL Charge 3 but, while it isn’t a gamechanger, it isn’t the only string to this speaker’s bow.

Right in the middle The JBL Charge 3 has been designed with portability in mind and fits neatly into the company’s existing speaker range. It’s larger than the petite JBL Flip, but not as hefty as the JBL Extreme. This makes the Charge 3 a good size for flinging in a rucksack and taking on your travels. And thanks to its rugged design, the Charge travels extremely well. The speaker looks robust and sturdy – and feels just as tough and hardy in hand. This is definitely a speaker that could quite happily cope with an active camping weekend or beach holiday. The JBL is wrapped in a special protective fabric, available in a range of colours, which isn’t too dissimilar from that used on rivals such as the UE Boom 2. This material, combined with the rest of the Charge 3’s design, results in an IPX7 (an international standard of waterproofing)-certified speaker, which should survive 30 minutes under water at a maximum depth of one metre. Handy to know if you’re cruising along in your kayak and it happens to fall overboard. The speaker sits on a built-in rubberised stand, which is punctuated by a small row of LED lights, indicating battery life. The more lights lit, the more charge left. On the back of the Charge 3 you’ll see a rubber panel. Stick your fingernail in the gap, pull it away and you'll see a selection of inputs.

There’s a 3.5mm socket for a more stable connection to your phone, a micro USB socket for charging the speaker, and a Type C USB socket for charging smartphones and the like. Make sure the panel is put securely back in place, or you could compromise its water-resistance. The feature count doesn’t stop here, though. There’s also a built-in mic, which works with the speaker’s noise- and echocancelling technology for hands-free calls.



Finding a voice Waterproof

Connect to other speakers You can also team up with other compatible JBL speakers to supersize your set-up. This is done by pressing the JBL Connect button and hooking them up using the JBL Connect app, available for Android and iOS. Press and hold the Bluetooth logo on top of the speaker and the Charge will set about the job of pairing with your smartphone. Given the JBL’s rugged build, you won’t be surprised to hear that it sounds neither shy nor hesitant. It’s an enthusiastic, powerful sound, highlighted by the passive radiators pulsing vigorously at either end of the speaker. They’re quite a mesmerising sight, but drag your attention away from them for a second and you’ll be able to appreciate the Charge’s energetic nature. Stream Delphic’s Ppp over Bluetooth and the JBL Charge 3 has no issue with drive, as the tune pulses and pounds along.

The track’s floaty intro is handled with greater openness and subtlety by the likes of the Award-winning Audio Pro Addon T3 (£165), but this is a slightly different style of speaker. The JBL’s closest rival is something like the UE Boom 2. Here, the JBL sounds more substantial and gives more weight and body to voices and bass kicks.


Switch to The Hills by The Weeknd, and the Charge 3 gets the emotion and pace of the vocal just right. Lows sound weighty and extremely powerful – the bassline extends and reaches down, with the speaker showing an impressive level of control. The UE equivalent sounds a touch more expressive in the midrange, but just isn’t capable of the same scale and authority that lends itself well to a portable outdoorfriendly speaker. There’s no riddle where the JBL Charge 3 is concerned and the evidence speaks for itself. This is a versatile wireless speaker with a fine feature set and very good sound quality for the money.



“It’s an enthusiastic, powerful sound, highlighted by the mesmerising passive radiators pulsing vigorously at either end of the speaker”



VERDICT JBL’s versatile wireless speaker delivers a super sound indoors and out – and is a useful charging station to boot

#30/;& "7  4:45&.



Denon AVR-X3300W | AV receiver | £800

click here to view offer

“Takes home cinema to the next level” FOR Punchy sound; lots of detail; impressive dynamics

AGAINST Nothing particularly at this price

In the same way a vampire acquires a taste for blood, we’ve got a taste for Denon’s new range of AV receivers. Our appetite was whetted by the brilliant AVR-X2300W (£500) but now we’re moving up the chain with the meatier, more expensive Denon AVR-X3300W. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much to separate them, so we’re interested to see if the AVR-X3300W can justify the £300 price premium, or whether you’d be mad to pay it. Placing the 3300 and its sibling next to each other results in a game of spot the difference. The chassis look almost identical, save for an extra five centimetres of depth on the X3300W. An inspection of the front panels shows they’re identical, with dials, buttons and connections, including a HDMI input and headphone socket, all matching up. The only difference is the model number in the bottom corner.

The Denon can upscale content to 4K resolution, but we’d suggest allowing your 4K TV or projector to carry out these duties. Elsewhere there’s a decent spread of digital connections and some legacy analogue video options for hooking up older kit. On the face of it, it’s hard to see where any of that extra money has gone – even the remote is copied from the budget model. But when you start ticking off the features, a few more differences start to appear. The AVR-X3300W gets Audyssey’s advanced MultEQ XT32 speaker calibration software, for example. The set-up process takes around 10-15 minutes to complete, and once all the speaker levels and distances have been taken (and checked manually), we’d recommend experimenting with Audyssey processing modes turned on and off. Unless your walls are wafer thin and you’re planning on listening in the small hours of the morning, we would turn ‘Dynamic Volume’ off. Even its light setting mutes the Denon’s far-reaching dynamics. Our concerns over the lack of coaxial digital inputs on the AVR-X2300W have been addressed and you’ll find a couple of inputs fitted to this big brother. There’s more of a custom install slant to the 3300,

Wafer-thin walls Around the back, the X3300 features a simple, fuss-free layout which has been a central theme of recent Denon amps. There’s no shortage of connections, with eight HDMI inputs for high-definition and Ultra HD sources. They’re all capable of 4K 60Hz passthrough and are HDCP 2.2 certified.

“The X3300’s power is up to 180W from the 150W of the 2300. You could be forgiven for not expecting a huge step up in performance, but you’d be wrong” The X3300 has a simple layout with eight HDMI inputs for high-def and Ultra HD sources


★★ ★ ★ ★ with a RS232 port, 12V trigger out, Crestron Connect support and Zone 2 audio and video all present. The Denon’s ability to decode all mainstream home cinema sound formats, including Dolby Atmos, is par for the course for home cinema amps at this price. This includes Dolby Atmos 5.1.2, with DTS:X compatibility a software update away. Users looking for simple music streaming have a number of options at their disposal, including Spotify Connect, AirPlay and Bluetooth. Internet radio and streaming from a NAS device on your home network are also supported. Wireless connectivity is aided by the amp’s ability to work on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz wavebands, although wired ethernet would always be our first choice for a more stable connection. But streaming isn’t limited to low-res files beamed from a smartphone or tablet. The Denon AVR-X3300W can handle a range of file formats across a network, including 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD in both single and double speed form.

Shifting up a gear Denon has gone to a lot of trouble in recent years to simplify its AV amps without compromising features, and deserves to be applauded for that. Set-up is simple, with the amp’s Set-up Assistant guiding you through every stage of the process, from stripping your speaker cable to setting up for Atmos. We weren’t too sure about Denon’s 2016 AVR Remote for Android and iOS when we reviewed the 2300, but the iOS app at least proves more stable this time round, allowing you to control everything from source selection and sound processing modes to speaker set-up. On paper, the 3300’s power is up to 180W compared to the 150W of the 2300, so you could be forgiven for not expecting a huge step up in performance. But you’d be wrong. It shares similar character traits, for sure. Punch and poise are still high on the

The X3300 comes with a standard remote, or use the iOS app (which proves more stable this time)


It looks similar to its X2300 sibling, but can the X3300 justify the £300 price premium?


Dolby Atmos 5.1.2

24-bit/192kHz streaming

HDCP 2.2

"We knew Denon had a great £500 receiver on its hands, but we weren’t sure the AVR-X3300W could justify its price premium over the X2300" agenda, but you get a sense that there’s more waiting in the wings. This Denon seems to have a couple of extra gears. Sure, with the help of a punishing, bruising soundtrack it’s able to blow your socks off, but really this is the very least we’d expect when moving up from a budget to mid-range AV receiver. Some amps have no trouble sounding ballsy and gung-ho, but it’s often done at the expense of subtlety. The AVR-X3300W has loads of power at its disposal but still manages to sound sophisticated with it.

Impressive precision Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t just a superhero showcase, it’s a fine test disc. Played through Panasonic’s DMP-UB900 4K Blu-ray player, the Denon laps up the action during the opening battle. As Thor dispatches the bad guys and Hulk smashes his way through an enemy bunker, low frequencies are felt forcefully and solidly. As Hulk and Iron Man’s Hulkbuster battle it out, their bout of fisticuffs results in the levelling of an entire construction site. Here, the depths to which the Denon’s bass delivery plummets are mighty impressive.

As the building collapses, the power and scale of the destruction are overwhelming. Listen to the same combination of scenes on its more affordable sibling and you can immediately hear the difference. When Ultron interacts with Jarvis, Tony Stark’s AI assistant, the AVR-X3300W drops down a couple of gears. A remarkable sense of finesse takes over, painting the scene with a subtle brush. The Denon creates an eerie sense of quiet. Dialogue between the two is crystal clear and there’s plenty of detail and expression to their voices. As the conversation takes a turn for the worse, it helps draw the viewer right into the heart of the on-screen action. As Ultron starts to sift through streams of data, sound effects flit between side channels and surge from the back of the surround field to the front with impressive precision. The Denon steers this efficiently and precisely, but you still have the sensation of being in the middle of a surround-sound bubble. The Denon’s sonic balance and ability to punch its way through a movie soundtrack stand it in good stead for music playback

too. Even wirelessly over Bluetooth or Spotify Connect, you’re treated to an entertaining sound. We play Galantis’s Runaway and the Denon communicates the fun and frivolity of the uplifting dance tune track without restraint. The emotive vocal starts proceedings, and the Denon gives it prime position in the soundfield. As the track builds and starts its dynamic shift, all the subtle details make way for an uplifting crescendo of electronica. We knew Denon had a great £500 receiver on its hands, but we weren’t sure the AVR-X3300W could justify its price premium over the AVR-X2300. We needn’t have worried. The way it moulds its various strengths together while maintaining such balance and finesse should be applauded. If you want to take your budget home cinema set-up to the next level, the Denon AVR-X3300W will do just that.



VERDICT Denon has excelled, with one of the most expressive and entertaining surround amps we’ve heard in a long while 19


Philips Fidelio B1 | Soundbar | £450 A neat remote control lets you adjust the treble and bass, and switch between the sound modes

“Hard to justify the price” FOR Wide spread of sound; goes loud; compact design

We had high hopes for the Philips Fidelio B1. This soundbar-with-wireless-subwoofer is designed for small rooms and small TVs, and seems the perfect antidote to the bulkier alternatives taking up space both in the market and in front of our TVs. But at £450 the sound quality really has to justify that price, not least because it must beat the Award-winning Q Acoustics Media 4 (£330) and be better value than the £200 Acoustic Energy Aego Soundbar, which is also designed for small spaces. Philips is off to a good start with the B1’s design. The main unit is solidly built and encased in a rather smart metal grille. Philips calls it the 'nano cinema speaker' and it’s certainly slim and compact, the ideal size for placing in front of your TV – especially if you have limited shelf space.

AGAINST Lacks detail and rhythmic ability; too pricey

★★★ ★ ★

The Philips Fidelio B1 looks like an antidote to bulky soundbars, but does sound quality match its price tag?

The Philips has a lean presentation, with a coarseness at the edge of the midrange that’s difficult to smooth out even after running-in. Voices sound hollow, and our five-star Samsung UE55KS9000 TV does a better job at delivering solid, nuanced voices that sound natural and expressive. It can even make Keanu Reeves’s wooden delivery sound reasonably expressive.

Doing a proper job

“Using Philips’s ‘microbeam’ technology, the B1 delivers a surprisingly wide spread of sound for its size” Of course, you can’t expect a huge amount of bass to come out of such a small unit, which is why Philips provides a separate subwoofer. It’s slim and discreet, and connects to the main bar wirelessly, so you can place it anywhere in your room. A stand is included to keep the subwoofer upright when positioned vertically, but we find it stays stable on its own too. The metal buttons on the soundbar are lovely to use when switching inputs or changing the volume, but you do get a remote control for all those functions, too. You can adjust the treble and bass of the B1, as well as switch between music and movie sound modes using the remote.

Wooden delivery We’re amazed Philips has managed to pack such a generous number of connections into this little unit. Hidden away on the back of the bar are HDMI and optical inputs, and a 3.5mm auxiliary socket for plugging in music players. There’s even an HDMI ARC (audio return channel) connection for your TV. A simple LED display glows behind the metal grilles of the main bar, with big letters indicating which source is selected.


You’ll notice a USB port as well, into which you can plug a memory stick full of songs. The Fidelio B1 doesn’t support any hi-res music, but standard-resolution WAV or MP3 files are fine. If you’re playing music through the B1, Bluetooth is quick to connect to your smartphone, and you can stream any song stored on your device. The B1 delivers a surprisingly wide spread of sound for its size. There are two drivers placed at either end of the main bar, with two more in the middle. Philips uses ‘microbeam’ technology to produce a wide arc of sound, and a surround amplifier to power all channels (including the sub). For such a small unit it goes loud too, and, coupled with the wide soundstage, you’ll feel immediately drawn into the film. There’s a decent amount of detail – you can follow the pinging gunshots in the John Wick Blu-ray, get a sense of the atmosphere inside the elegant Continental Hotel, and follow the deadpan dialogue. But that’s where the good news ends. There’s not a whole lot of solid weight underpinning the B1’s sound and, as a result, sound effects don’t make a satisfying impact or have strength of conviction when whizzing around the screen.


We were expecting a huge leap in sound quality, but the B1's languid presentation comes to the fore when playing movies or music. If the TV sounds better on its own, you know the soundbar isn’t doing its job. Play Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense concert on DVD, and the Philips struggles to keep tabs on the driving rhythm of Girlfriend Is Better. There’s an attempt to keep pace: bass notes are alluded to, but they don’t reach too deep or rumble with texture. The edges of notes lack the accuracy and clarity of rivals such as the Q Acoustics Media 4, which spoils the Philips’ ability to render taut, fast-moving rhythms. We’d recommend staying in Music mode, as 'Movie' thins the sound out – which, in the Fidelio B1’s case, is not a good thing. The lean, coarse edge is emphasised and takes away any solidity that exists. The Philips Fidelio B1 draws us in with its big, open and wide sound, but does little to keep us captivated. The lack of rhythmic precision, insight and a poor way with voices mean it’s hard to justify at the price. For £450, we expect a performance we prefer far more than the TV’s own speakers. The Fidelio B1 is a great idea, but we hope Philips can execute it better next time. And charge less for it.

says Wireless subwoofer

Rating ★★★ ★


HDMI input


aptX Bluetooth

VERDICT The B1’s smart, compact design and generous connections are let down by lacklustre sound quality and high price

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Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless | Wireless headphones | £320

Pure-bred pedigree FOR Stylish design; great audio quality; easy usability

AGAINST Nothing of note

If you’re looking for over-ear Bluetooth headphones, you’re probably going to be making your selection based on four main factors: their sound quality, their aesthetics, their comfort and their price. These B&Ws have the same design as the stylish wired P7s that won the What Hi-Fi? Award for ‘Best portable on-ear’ headphones in 2013. A case, it would seem, of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" from B&W.

ever trying to overcook the treble. The midrange is clear and Black Francis’ haunting rhetorical questions are given the space to linger in the air before diving down into the lower octaves. And they do so without any noticeable lack of control that would take away the eerie essence of the song. Changing to something more pop, Pitbull and Ke$ha’s collaboration Timber stays upbeat and fun, with a lot of emotion in both the artists’ vocals. These headphones do a good job of conveying the deep growl in Pitbull’s voice and revealing a harsh edge to it, making you believe he could be singing this having just come out of a club. Great headphones should be able to point your attention towards new details in songs, even those you’ve heard a number of times. Sure enough, we find the P7s expose undiscovered facets in tracks we know backwards via lesser media.

A chip off the old block These wireless equivalents have all the best initial qualities of their wired siblings: the earpads are very comfortable and can be worn all day. They have the same 17-hour lithium battery as the wireless P5s, charged via USB, so it’s unlikely you’re ever going to run out of power during the day as long as you start fully charged. The P7’s aptX Bluetooth connectivity is controlled via the power button: slide it across to turn on and off, and push it inwards to make the headphones discoverable to new devices. Once paired

★★ ★ ★ ★

Blessed with the same battery as in the P5 Wireless, the P7s can play for up to 17 hours. Good job they're comfy then

“We can’t say we’re surprised, but the fact is the P7 Wireless headphones set a high standard for other competitors in this price range to reach” with a device, these cans don’t need to be made discoverable again to connect. The headphones provide audio feedback too, by playing a different sound when they are being turned on, made discoverable or turned off, in case you’re connecting the P7s while still wearing them. On the right earpad lie the controls for volume and playback, each of which are clearly distinguished from the other by the raised design of the middle button that toggles playback. As we would expect, the middle button is able to play and pause any media via Apple Music, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video across laptops, smartphones and tablets, and can be used to trigger voice-controlled assistants such as Apple’s Siri. We start with Where Is My Mind by Pixies – the test here being whether the P7s can keep the contrast between the quiet background echoes and the distortion in the guitar balanced and organised. Turns out they manage to do both, keeping the high-pitched wailing under control without

The P7s have a good control of the dynamics too, able to smoothly build from the harmonica at the start of Timber to the crescendo of the loud club. The message is these headphones can effectively recreate the atmosphere of a range of music with ease.

Bass balance The deep bass beats are generous, perhaps a touch overly so, yet are managed particularly well in the way they keep the sound taut and tuneful while sustaining plenty of attack. At the other end of the spectrum, the high notes have a rich texture to them without erring on the bright side, and on the whole the P7s deliver a comfortably full-bodied sound. Should you need to, you have the option of connecting the wireless P7s to your device via a supplied lead. As we would expect, this results in improved transparency and detail – in exchange for the freedom of Bluetooth connectivity.


Bluetooth v4.1

We can't say we're surprised, but the fact is the P7 Wireless headphones set a high standard for other competitors in this price range to reach. B&W has built a very impressive pair of Bluetooth headphones that we’d certainly recommend for their sound quality, stylish design, and user-friendly Bluetooth controls.

says 3.5mm stereo jack

Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND COMFORT



VERDICT B&W’s latest wireless headphones meet the high standard that we’ve come to expect from the company 21

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Revel Concerta2 M16 | Stereo speakers | £950

Low profile, high quality FOR Dynamics and bass; good integration; punchy; fine build

AGAINST You‘ll need to take care with partnering kit


Key details – such as the elegant curved cabinet and waveguide tweeter design – distinguish the M16s

We’re surprised a brand such as Revel hasn’t made a bigger impact on the UK speaker market. All the ingredients for success seem to be in place: the products are well made, solidly engineered and, in our experience, tend to sound good. The brand even has the might of parent company Harman behind it to provide extra reassurance. We hope the new Concerta2 series will kick start things, particularly as the standmounter of the range, the M16, is a terrific product.

Conventional yet customised A quick scan through the specifications won’t reveal anything special. It all looks pretty standard for the price. These are medium-sized, single-wired boxes packing a 25mm dome tweeter and a 16cm mid/bass driver supported by a rear-firing reflex port. Both drivers use aluminium diaphragms. Take a closer look at the details and it’s clear the company’s engineers have worked hard to optimise performance. That wooden cabinet is a curved, strongly braced affair that not only gives a solid, relatively inert platform for the drive units to work from, but looks smart too. The unusual dished waveguide in which the tweeter sits isn’t there just to make things look interesting. It controls the directivity of the tweeter, bringing it closer to that of the mid/bass unit at crossover frequencies. This improves integration in this all-important region. The acoustic lens – the thing that looks like a grille in front of the dome – also helps.

Cone treatment An aluminium cone in a mid/bass unit is fairly conventional, but in this case the cone is coated on both sides with a ceramic composite which adds both stiffness and damping – essential for good performance. The rear-firing port is curved internally to deliver a high output without adding noise. Positioning is easy. Place the speakers at least 30cm from a rear wall, and well away from corners, and off you go. All that work to control the tweeter’s dispersion really seems to pay off, because these speakers deliver a wide, open sound stage without fussing too much about the amount they’re angled in towards the listening position. Listen to a demanding piece of music such as Tchaikovsky’s Marché Slave Op.31 and the M16s will render an impressively

expansive stereo image and populate it with precisely focused sounds. It’s all nicely layered and remains stable when the music gets busy. Perhaps even more impressive is the enthusiastic way these standmounters deliver large-scale dynamics. They pound out crescendos with relish, refusing to harden up or compress the music. Then there’s the authority of the presentation, helped by the Revel’s ability to dig deep in the bass. These speakers may be just 37cm tall, but close your eyes and you’d swear you were listening to decently sized floorstanders. Those lows are not only powerful but agile and tuneful too. But don’t go thinking these speakers lack subtlety. Such doubts will vanish once you hear how these cope with the likes of Ólafur Arnalds or Dusty Springfield. That superbly integrated midrange communicates Dusty’s


Metal drive units

Tweeter wave guide

voice with all the finesse and passion it deserves, while the speakers’ ability to organise without sounding controlling works wonders with the Broadchurch OST. Just take care in system matching; the M16’s clarity is admirable, but they have a ruthless edge that can easily be provoked if the partnering kit is on the aggressive side. Comparison to a class leader such as the (pricier) ATC SCM 11s shows up a shortfall of sweetness in that tweeter too. The M16s are a bundle of fun. They may not be the most refined choice around, but they entertain in a way few rivals can. We think that’s worth £950 of anyone’s money.

Single wire


Rating ★★★ ★ ★ SOUND

The rear-firing bass port is curved internally to maximise its effectiveness


VERDICT One of the best speakers we’ve heard below the £1000 mark. Match with care and these are sure to please 23


Samsung UE49KS8000 | 4K television | £1400

The KS8000 shuns the curved screen trend. Its features make it Samsung's flagship flatscreen choice for 2016

click here to view offer

“…depth, nuance, intensity…” FOR Great HDR performance; all-round picture quality

AGAINST Lacking catch-up services; blacks could be deeper

In the battle of curved TV versus flat TV, most people sit firmly in one camp or the other. If it’s the former, Samsung’s 2016 range of TVs has you covered. If it’s the latter, you are a little more limited. This means, in absolute terms, the KS8000 is Samsung’s flagship flatscreen range for 2016. This 49in version is the smallest of the lot, sitting below 55in, 65in and 75in screen sizes. It’s not small on features though, and packs both 4K and HDR, with an almost identical list of specs as its curvier KS9000 sibling. Like the KS9000, the KS8000 features Samsung’s '360-degree design', which offers a super-slim bezel, stylish central stand and an almost unblemished back panel. A small flap lifts to unveil a USB port and ethernet connection, with other inputs – including four 4K-ready HDMIs, an optical input, two further USBs and both satellite and terrestrial connections – found on Samsung’s OneConnect box. The Quantum Dot display – technology also used by LG and Panasonic – makes it capable of a wider colour gamut than regular panels. It ticks all the boxes for a UHD Premium logo, including 1000 nits of peak brightness. Not bad for an edge-lit display.

Samsung’s Tizen operating system has seen some welcome tweaks this year. It’s now faster and more intuitive, and adds a second row of exploded content and suggested next steps along the bottom of the screen. This could mean a list of sources or quick settings without needing to open up a full settings screen, suggested content from your Netflix and Amazon watch lists, or YouTube videos from your subscriptions. It’s frustrating then, that we’re still waiting for all of the UK catch-up service apps to be added to the KS8000. BBC iPlayer and ITV Player should arrive this autumn, with 4OD before the end of the year, but you’ll have to go without for now.

Rich and vibrant With so much tech, something has had to fall by the wayside, and that’s 3D. As with all Samsung’s 2016 TVs, the KS8000 has no 3D functionality, which is worth considering if you have a library of 3D discs. Set-up is nice and simple, with the KS8000 walking you through the main settings for getting channels loaded and network connections sorted, plus it will also help you to add sources by recognising and naming them automatically.

★★ ★ ★ ★ The included smart remote doubles up as a universal remote for compatible kit too, and is able to deliver basic commands to devices from all manner of manufacturers. Picture controls are hidden away under 'expert settings', leaving simpler modes such as Movie, Standard, Natural or Dynamic front and centre for you to choose from. Of course, you should dive straight into settings to tweak these further – we opt for Movie for the most natural handling of colour, and calibrate using our THX Optimizer disc. The only extra settings we find of much use are the Smart LED local dimming setting, which helps to get blacks a little deeper when set to low (it defaults to high for HDR content), and the motion controls – we’d try setting low custom values if you feel the need, as the KS8000 doesn’t require much help in this department. It’s a very stable picture indeed. All these settings will change the moment the TV recognises an HDR source, boosting the backlight up to its maximum, among other things, in order to make the most of your HDR content. The KS8000 will automatically revert back to SDR settings once the HDR source is turned off.


The KS8000 features Samsung's '360-degree design' concept, including a super-slim bezel


Also fitting the '360-degree design' concept is the stylish central stand, which has been made rack-friendly

Two remotes are included – the smart remote doubles up as a universal remote for compatible kit

The back panel is unblemished, apart from a small flap covering a USB port and ethernet connection



Flat 49in screen


HDR HDR capable

“The UE49KS9000 squeezes a lot of tech into a sub-50in screen. It’s a tempting buy for the size-conscious consumer wanting a 4K upgrade”

We play a 4K HDR disc of Mad Max: Fury Road to see how the KS8000 copes with the movie’s striking visuals. On cue, the backlight jumps into action to deliver an impressive level of brightness we wouldn’t usually expect from an edge-lit set. The burnt-orange desert wasteland looks rich and vibrant, displayed with more depth, nuance and intensity than you would get from SDR content. Highlights are just as striking but avoid looking one-dimensional, delivering subtlety and detail to the likes of sunshine and clouds.

Wholly immersive There’s real insight elsewhere too. The costumes that bagged this film an Oscar are sharply etched and superbly realised, with enough fine detail on display so you don’t miss a stitch. Textures appear true to life, skin-tones wonderfully judged. It makes for a wholly immersive picture that’s just as stunning as we found on the KS9000, with colours across the board managing to tread that fine line between punch and believability. Black levels could be a little better though. Even with the

Smart LED setting turned up to its default high for HDR content, we’ve seen deeper, more convincing blacks in sets such as Panasonic's DX902. This isn’t helped by Samsung’s edge-lit tech – now lit from top and bottom rather than from the sides – which isn’t quite as accurate in its dimming as a full array set is. We also notice a touch of vertical blooming when a bright object is in shot, just as we did on the KS9000. It’s not too distracting – it’s only really noticeable in a very dark room – but is a limitation of the KS8000’s capabilities all the same. It’s much less obvious with SDR content though, mostly because the backlight setting is much lower. As a result, blacks are better, and cling on well to shadow detail in murkier scenes. Drop down to standard Blu-ray content, or even broadcast TV, and you won’t see a huge shift in character, thanks to the decent upscaler Samsung has on board. Detail levels naturally take a step down with every compromise in quality you make, but ultimately it remains a sharp, natural and well-judged picture.

We don’t often hold out much hope for sound from TVs this slim, but the KS8000’s 4.1-channel setup with its claimed 60W of power certainly holds its own. There’s enough weight here to give body and authority to voices, and it keeps its cool even when the volume is pushed high. Samsung has clearly worked hard to ensure the KS8000 doesn’t sound bright or thin, but appears to have erred on the side of caution. More bite in the top end would give the KS8000 the chance to be more expressive – and a more engaging listen. The UE49KS9000 squeezes a lot of tech into a sub-50in screen, making it a tempting buy for the size-conscious consumer wanting a high-end 4K upgrade. If you have shunned the trend for curved TVs, the UE49KS8000 is by far the best flatscreen Samsung set we’ve seen this year.



VERDICT Samsung’s flagship flatscreen delivers a stunning all-round performance 25


Marantz CD6006 | CD player | £400

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“A punt that’s paid off handsomely” FOR Big, cosseting sound; good timing and focus; build

AGAINST Favours easy listening over detail; price hike


It looks the same, but there have been tweaks under the skin.

At no point has it been broken – a string of What Hi-Fi? Awards dating back to the turn of the 21st century attests to that – but nevertheless Marantz has gone ahead and fixed its 6000-series CD player every year regardless. This latest version, the CD6006, has undergone numerous changes from the 2015 Award-winning CD6005 – not least a price hike from the outgoing machine’s £330. None of them is fundamental – it's mainly down to internal component upgrades – but taken as a whole they contribute to making the CD6006 a superior disc-player to the CD6005 it replaces.

Looks can be deceiving Looking at it, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking Marantz had, for once, left well enough alone. The chassis dimensions and the fascia layout will be familiar to anyone who’s so much as glanced at a 6000-series CD player in the past. Up front there’s a central tray-loading mechanism with a (bright, legible) display beneath, the usual controls, and USB socket and 6.3mm headphone output with gain control. Around the back it’s the bare essentials: stereo analogue output along with digital optical and coaxial outputs for by-passing the 6006’s DAC and using it purely as a transport. The usual logical, responsive and decently hefty Marantz remote control is present once again. Rather than by-passing the Marantz’s DAC, we’d recommend making the most of it. It’s a high-quality, high-resolution (24-bit/192kHz) Cirrus Logic CS4398 affair that’s capable of dealing with better-thanCD-quality digital files – it can be accessed via the USB input, so if you’ve any hi-res WAV files on a USB stick then the 6006 can become a hi-res audio player. The USB will


also handle MP3, AAC and WMA files, as well as acting as a direct iDevice input. Elsewhere, the 6006’s headphone output is remarkably well specified for a product of this type – it’s compatible with a wide range of headphones and far from the afterthought this sort of feature often is. Slide a copy of Burial’s Untrue into the (smooth, quiet) disc-tray and the broad strokes of the 6006’s sound are instantly familiar. It’s a robust, full-figured delivery, giving the low end’s hectic urban activity real weight and presence. This recording also shows up the Marantz’s lack of absolute authority slightly, the relentless bass attack threatening to run away with itself on occasion, but overall this player is good news for those who savour a ballsy bass line. Throughout the rest of the frequency range, the Marantz proves an equally sturdy listen. There are decent detail levels in the midrange, and rather more bite and shine to the treble frequencies than we’ve been used to from 6000-series CD players – which is definitely a good thing. Truly careless system-matching will provoke a little harshness, but in all reasonable circumstances the 6006 is a nicely balanced listen.

GO TO… THAT WAS THEN Marantz has been hitting the CD-player spot for decades; meet the 6006's 1994 predecessor

a more engaged and engaging listen than the machine it replaces. Lower the temperature from ‘boil’ to ‘simmer’ with Ólafur Arnalds’ Found Songs and the Marantz is unflustered, able to deal with small-scale and delicate just as confidently as it does urban bombast. The attack and decay of piano notes, the bite and rasp of violin strings, and the light and shade of synthesiser washes are all delivered deftly. So it’s a case of “meet the new boss – mildly upgraded and consequently appreciably better than the old boss”. A price-hike is always a risky gambit, but in the case of the CD6006 it’s a punt that has paid off handsomely.

Disc-tray operation is smooth and quiet, but the real treats come when the music plays

Clarity in complexity Timing is good, even when the going gets complex, as Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (RIAS Berlin Sinfonietta, Ute Lemper) demonstrates. The 6006 establishes a broad and believable soundstage, positions and focuses well, and makes the interaction between whole sections or individual instruments obvious. There’s a tangible sense of performance that nominal rivals can’t quite match. It’s not about to get carried away or overexcited, but the 6006 is



VERDICT Another triumph. Marantz’s mastery of the affordable CD player is as complete as it ever was


ATC C1 | Speaker package | £3250

“Do or don’t madden the neighbours” FOR Spacious and detailed; great integration; expressive

AGAINST You‘ll need to budget for dedicated stands

Every now and then precedent counts for very little, if anything; listen to almost every great band’s third or fourth album. Thankfully for ATC, and our eardrums, its C1 surround speaker package does a distinguished family proud. The set-up comprises four ATC SCM7s, which are standmounter monitors sporting 25mm soft-dome tweeters and a 12.5cm mid/bass driver, a C1C centre to match (though with a pair of those mid/bass drivers), and the C1 subwoofer boasting an impressive 31cm, down-firing bass driver.

means they are less fussy than some about positioning. In terms of physical considerations, it’s an ideal package for any small to medium-sized room.

Trademark look Unless you’re a complete stranger to ATC products you’ll recognise the aesthetic. Our test kit is in what ATC names cherry, which is essentially light brown, or there’s the option of black ash (black), all in the company’s tidy yet undoubtedly smart trademark style. We’re somewhere between wanting to look at them and thinking we'd happily ignore them and let the music play. As it's a package built exclusively of standmounter speakers, you’ll also have to shell out for some decent speaker stands – but they shouldn't be disproportionately expensive and the C1s' sealed-box design

Stands to deliver We BluTack the C1 system to our Atacama speaker stands – the standmounters have flat wooden bases so you’ll need to tack them down lest you lose some of the sonic body – wire up to a Yamaha RX-A3060 AV ampliier and, having let them run in over a weekend, play a Blu-ray of 300: Rise Of An Empire. Immediately we’re drawn to the way in which this package integrates its speakers – thunder and flying arrows crack and sail behind us with exceptional detail, while not dominating the main action or dialogue. Given that we have modestly sized standmounters rather than big floorstanders here, you might expect the sound to be lacking in weight. It's not. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how rich the surround effects are. You’ll likely require something bigger if you’re filling a large room, but we can’t deny the ATCs their impressively wide sense of space. Despite perhaps not having the muscle to properly fill an area the size

★★★★★ “Thunder and flying arrows crack and sail behind us with exceptional detail” of our listening room (8m x 6m), the sound is anything but boxed in, giving a great sense of scale and distance in tune with what’s happening on our projector. In some ways you might have expected us to begin by praising the centre speaker, given its smorgasbord of fortes. ATC says the C1C centre is designed to complement the SCM7s you have in the corners of your room, and it certainly shares their solid, balanced tone. Even in the heat of battle, with a busy score and even busier list of sound effects, their edges are neither sharp nor smoothed: it’s a balance that has us almost forgetting to listen critically and just becoming lost in the film.

Good expression Perhaps the most important asset for any centre speaker, though, given it will be handling most of a film’s dialogue, is

USE IT WITH Yamaha RX-A3060 £2000 This AV amp has effortless power and a superbly immersive soundfield. See p64


The C1‘s downward-firing subwoofer is a compact unit yet packs 200W of amplification.


The neat, clear control system on the front of the subwoofer makes it a breeze to set up.

ATC's CIC centre speaker shares its drive units with the SCM7s, leading to a cohesive overall sound.

The SCM7s are the smallest in ATC's standmounter range, but they live up to their big brothers‘ reputation

FIRST TESTS Sub aside, all the speakers use the same tweeter and mid/bass units, ensuring a consistent character between channels


200W subwoofer

SCM7s: 300 x 174 x 215mm

CIC centre: 161 x 410 x 280mm

dynamics. We could probably have picked a more difficult film for the C1C’s exam, given the over-acting in 300 is rife almost to the point of secondary-school theatre production, but nonetheless the level of expression is a delight. It’s easy to say the most important aspect of a film is its content, but poor dynamics will ultimately leave all your characters sounding achingly bored which, unless you’re watching some mid-2000s coming-of-age indie drama, is far from what your director intended. Essentially, it’s much more an immersive experience if your speaker package can effectively render vocal expression. The ATC C1 can.

Get ready to rumble A word on the sub: it’s just about light enough for a few of our team to lift alone without putting their backs out, but packs more than enough of a punch that you won’t be suffering from bass envy. Rumbles are indeed rumbles – you can feel ships colliding through the soles of your feet, underlining the solid body of the rest of the package with authoritative weight, and a dial on the front allows you to tweak the

musical performance, with all you’d expect from so proficient a manufacturer of studio monitors, and one which could only be bettered by adding more stereofocused components further up the chain. bottom end so you do or don’t madden the neighbours, whichever is your preference.

Entertaining with music too We’ve mentioned dynamics, which the C1 package masters both in terms of ‘quiet to loud’ and those more nuanced levels of expression, but the ATC has also refined its unimpeachable sense of timing. If you’ve seen this 300 sequel, you’ll know much momentum is lost through its ridiculousness, but this package is able to claw some of that back through its presentation of the film's music. It’s exceptionally fast, building anticipation as we head into each battle and firing each arrow with uniform precision. Which all leads us to the point that this is not simply a product for home cinema. If you have a particularly accomplished AV amp, these SCM7s can be enormously entertaining with stereo music. Using the same Yamaha amp, we spin Lou Reed’s Transformer on CD and allow ourselves to be serenaded with tales of New York cross-dressing. It’s a wonderfully

Fine value for money We suppose the highest praise we can offer ATC here is that it gives our considerably more expensive PMC reference system a run for its money. By that we don’t mean the two systems are exactly on a par, but that neither is lacking in any department – their characters are equally appealing. In a room a little smaller than the one we have for testing, at the moment we can think of no better alternative for the money. A consummate triumph, to be sure.



VERDICT If you aren’t trying to fill an auditorium, this speaker package is one of the best around 29


The Pulse Soundbar comes with two sizes of rear-facing feet, to be used when placing it in front of a TV

Bluesound Pulse Soundbar | Soundbar | £1000

“Hi-res support and a majestic sound“ FOR Muscular sound; good features; hi-res streaming

AGAINST More precise rivals; positioning quirks; pricey

To call the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar a soundbar would be grossly unfair. Yes, it’s shaped like a soundbar, yes it’s designed to be placed under a TV, yes its main function is to boost the TV's sound quality. But with wi-fi, ethernet and aptX Bluetooth all on board, it does so much more. Described as an 'all-in-one wireless streaming audio system', once it's connected to a network, it can stream just about any music file from anywhere to the Pulse Soundbar. It isn’t just Bluesound’s first soundbar – it’s also the first soundbar to support hi-res playback and MQA files. Add in a mostly majestic sound, and we can understand why it costs an eye-watering £1000.

You won’t see any buttons or displays on the bar, which leaves it looking relatively discreet. There’s only a circle of LEDs in the middle that glows subtly. A neat trick is that you can flip the bar 180 degrees and a built-in sensor will adjust the left and right channels accordingly. But the biggest appeal of the Pulse Soundbar is its wireless streaming capabilities. From hi-res 24-bit/192kHz files in just about all formats to the fledgling MQA, you’d normally see such credentials only in pricey hi-fi streamers. Essential to using the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar is the BluOS Controller app. Available for Apple and Android devices, the free app will be familiar to anyone with an existing Bluesound system. This dense and complex app might take a while to get used to, but it’s full of options to play your music and movies through the Soundbar.

Thwack attack If we had to quantify the value of the Bluesound Soundbar in sheer heft, it’s worth the high price tag. At 7kg, the Soundbar has the kind of solid build quality you could thwack an armed robber with. The all-black finish of the aluminium chassis looks sleek and the curved edges soften the look. But there’s no escaping the fact you’re going to have to clear some space in your living-room to house the Soundbar. The bar’s considerable height (14cm) means wall-mounting might be a better option.


Remote options The fact you don’t get a proper remote with the soundbar will divide opinion, as it’s easier to press a button when adjusting volume rather than going into the app. However, the soundbar has an IR sensor with learning function so you can use your TV’s remote to do those functions. Connect the Pulse Soundbar to your home network (using a stable wired

★★★★ ★

ethernet connection), open the BluOS app and it should find the Soundbar. You’ll be able to start controlling every aspect of the soundbar – volume, tone controls, listening modes, input – as well as streaming from various connected sources.

KEY FEATURES (24-bit/192kHz) Hi-res streaming

A multi-room ecosystem Any music stored on your home network can be played, whether hi-res FLAC tracks from your NAS drive library, CD rips from your laptop or songs stored on your smartphone. The main music streaming services – Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Napster and TuneIn radio – are available in the app’s menu, or, for a more straightforward approach, aptX Bluetooth is on board for streaming from all devices. The physical connections are hidden away at the back of the bar. You’ll find an optical input and a pair of RCA inputs for plugging in your TV, and a USB port for playing content stored on sticks and drives. You might wonder why you’re not getting any HDMI inputs at this price. Bluesound claims it wants to keep things simple. Since the optical input (and streaming over the network) supports 24-bit/192kHz content and is easily compatible with all TVs, it hasn’t felt the need to include HDMI. Also, the Bluesound

Wired and wi-fi

aptX Bluetooth



“If you’re looking for a grand soundbar with the best streaming features available, the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar will certainly meet your needs”

The app is rather dense and complex, but is full of options to play music

The Bluesound Pulse Soundbar weighs 7kg and is 14cm tall, so wallmounting may be a better option You can teach your TV remote these functions through the IR sensor

Bluesound hasn't included HDMI, saying the optical input is compatible with all TVs is a two-channel bar: it’s capable of decoding Dolby soundtracks, but will downmix everything to stereo. A forthcoming update means you’ll be able to insert other Bluesound wireless speakers (such as the Pulse, Mini or Flex) and use them as rear speakers for surround sound. Since it’s part of the Pulse family, we imagine the Soundbar will be inducted into the multi-room ecosystem soon enough.

Nail-biting tension If you’re expecting a huge, wide sound from the large Bluesound soundbar, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Play the Avengers: Age of Ultron Blu-ray and the soundfield that emerges is large-scale, spacious and extends far beyond its physical dimensions. With so much superhero-enhanced action going on in the explosive Avengers film, Bluesound’s muscle and power (a claimed 120W across six drivers and two passive radiators) is much needed. There’s plenty of weight underpinning the ample detail, and sound effects move around convincingly. It’s not quite the wrap-around 5.1 surround sound you get from Yamaha’s YSP soundbars, but there’s a good amount of movement given to flying Iron Man suits, the zing of Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer.

The soundbar’s grand scale will draw you into the action, and the full-bodied approach means it’s comfortable to listen to. There isn’t a spiky edge in sight. The Hulk’s roars are huge, loud and muscular, and each stomp lands with a decent thump. But the bottom edge is a bit soft, where we need a more impactful, satisfying punch. We could do with more suspense when the evil robot attacks the Avengers for the first time. Our Award-winning Dali Kubik Free builds up the tension to a nail-biting level with a touch more subtlety. The Bluesound gets the excitement across, but needs a dose of rhythmic accuracy, clarity and more expressive dynamics too. The thunk of metal hitting metal in any action scene has a good deal of punch through the Bluesound, but we want more precision and control. The edges of notes are rounded off enough to prevent the Bluesound from being as attacking and meticulously precise and subtle as we’d expect at this high-end price. The nuances and subtleties of each voice are laid bare, but the Bluesound doesn’t sound quite as pristine or crisp in comparison with the Dali. Stream The Dead Weather’s 60 Feet Tall and the rolling drums in the intro could be handled with more definite control and tautness. And while that lively bassline in

Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams has a nice bounce, we want it tightened up even more, so the rhythm is spot-on. It’s because the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar is priced at £1000 that we’re scrutinising it so ferociously against our class-leader. The Dali soundbar may not match the muscle or scale of the Bluesound, but Dali’s stunning clarity and handling of rhythm and detail make it the best soundbar your money can buy. The Bluesound, however, is impressive for its scale and richness. And that features list is hard to argue with. If you’re looking for a grand soundbar that has the perks of the best streaming features available, this Bluesound Pulse Soundbar will certainly meet your needs as a main entertainment hub.



VERDICT More streaming system than simple soundbar, this Bluesound is worth considering for its powerful sound 31



It wows cinema audiences, but getting Dolby Atmos into the home cinema market is a harder sell. Could dance music be the key to the technology’s future? 34



s befits a company with a very low blemish record of delivering state-of-the-art cinema surround-sound, Dolby’s most recent standard – Atmos – has been both a creative and commercial success. We’ve covered the what, how and why of Dolby Atmos in these pages before – and you can refresh your memory at So for now let’s just say the introduction of overhead loudspeakers and a move to object-based encoding of film soundtracks has, both literally and figuratively, brought a new dimension to the way we experience movie sound. But while an Atmos-equipped cinema delivers an order of sound different to that of its non-Atmos equivalent, it’s a little trickier to ascertain the impact Atmos has had on home cinema.

view; listening to music is much more about replicating a performance, where the band or orchestra is invariably at one end of the hall and projecting forwards towards the audience. But Dolby Atmos DJ instead addresses the audience in a nightclub, an audience perfectly happy to be placed right in the middle of the sound and one far less

Projecting forwards

concerned with the perceived authenticity of a performance. The first (and, currently, only) Dolby Atmos DJ installation is at south London’s venerable Ministry of Sound. Arguably the most super of all the Superclubs, MoS had been getting by perfectly well on its six bespoke Martin Audio stacks before Dolby, under the direction of product manager (and ex-sound engineer) Gabriel Cory, incorporated another 16 Martin Audio speakers into its ceiling.

Of course, manufacturers of AV receivers are falling over themselves to make their products Atmos-certified – even smartphones and tablets have been getting in on the act. But how many home cinema enthusiasts are enthusiast enough to add two or four in-ceiling speakers to their set-up, or augment their existing speakers with upwardfiring modules to bounce sound from the ceiling? The decisive argument for Atmos might be made by music. Surroundsound audio has always been a difficult sell (our list of Failed Technologies in last month’s issue includes many examples of supreme public indifference to very accomplished formats), and it’s not hard to understand why. In the cinema, the viewer is keen to be transported into the middle of the action, to get a protagonist’s point of

Atmos-isation starts in the studio, where a track is split into ‘stems’ – specific elements that can be manipulated within the 360-degree Atmos environment. Dolby’s plug-in for ProTools (the DJ’s recording and mixing software of choice) allows the DJ to select individual stems and pre-program where and when within the audio environment they want them to go. “Once we have the stems, we can decide what stays in the stereo bed and what becomes a moveable object,” says Gabriel Cory. “If there’s a speaker in the area you want to move a sound to, it’ll be driven – but if there isn’t it’ll go to the nearest one. That’s what so flexible about Atmos – you can mix it for Ministry of Sound or for your car stereo. It keeps all the elements in place and downmixes to the environment you’re listening in.” The finished mix is then downloaded into the Dolby Atmos DJ app. The app is in three sections: a tune on either side, with an expandable list of stems beneath each, and a visual real-time representation of the room (with its various stems) in the middle. When a laptop running the app is hooked to the standard MoS Pioneer CDJ-2000 digital turntables and DJM-900 mixer, anything the DJ does within the app is mimicked in the hardware – and vice versa. “So you can have the DJ app off to one side to perform your set if you like – everything is mapped automatically to the CDJs. Some of the panning might be preprogrammed, but what’s neat about our software is you can still grab any one of the stems and move it around the audience in real time.”

“DJs love the experience, fans love the experience. It has a future”

Audio sensation The total number of speakers in the room rose to 60, across 22 discrete channels. Suddenly artists and DJs – most of whom need no second invitation to get behind the MoS decks to begin with – have an exciting new toy to play with and the MoS audience has a remarkable audio sensation to enjoy.

Technology with a future

South London’s Ministry of Sound club has the UK’s first, and currently only, Dolby Atmos DJ installation

Given Dolby Atmos DJ is currently a resolutely professional tool, it may not at first glance seem to be the domestic ace up Dolby’s sleeve. But because it engages a younger audience of electronic/dance music fans, unlike those deceased surround-sound music formats (The Doors in 5.1, anyone? Steely Dan? No?), and because its technology can quite easily be democratised, there’s a decent chance the next generation of dance music movers and shakers will want a home studio with a couple of overhead channels to allow them to come up with an Atmos mix. And once those clubbers have been exposed to the Atmos DJ experience, they’ll be every bit as likely to want to replicate the sensation at home as their film-loving counterparts. “This is just the first stage,” says Cory “The response has been great. DJs love the experience, fans love the experience. This technology has a future.”

F O R A L L T H E L AT E S T T E C H N O L O G Y 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 35





1 Philips Fidelio M2L £200 On the inside these Philips headphones feature a high-quality 24-bit DAC. On the outside, these over-ear cans have two 40mm neodymium drivers. That should be enough to keep the true audiophile happy.

Five new Lightning headphones for your new iPhone 7 2 2 Phaz P3 £190 Worried about losing battery power? The Phaz P3 over-ear headphones charge the phone while playing music. The P3s have a three-button audio cord to control volume and the mic, and also have Bluetooth connectivity should you want to avoid being tangled up in cables, Lightning or otherwise.

4 Audeze iSine 20 £450 They look like something made by Spider-Man, but the world’s first in-ear planar magnetic headphones are comfortable, and a hook-ear design keeps them secure. The Audeze iSine 20s also boast a longer Uniforce voice coil to improve sou d lit


3 JBL Reflect Aware £170 The Reflect Awares are aimed at the iPhone 7 user who works out. As well as being sweatproof, they’re the only headphones to feature noise cancellation and Adaptive Noise Control for when you need more audio awareness of the environment around you.



5 5 Libratone Q Adapt £160 The Q Adapts use Libratone's CityMix ANC technology, which has four levels of active noise cancellation. This gives you the option of letting some background sound in, such as traffic noise. They also have in-line controls for volume, playback, phone calls, Siri and noise-cancellation settings.



N T U O N N E R IN TU r system, the integrate erhouse of you d stereo w o p e h t amp n t s u j e r o . m B u d t n i s a it still all abo rt o ow co p er p u s g s e n r ut the p hilo mes , h t o o erform o N t e u l B ance ? tereo amplifiers are trying to outgrow with


their 20th century role as simply the powerhouse of hi-fi systems. For many, it’s not just about power output or how nice the volume dial is any more, but the features they have: Bluetooth? A DAC? Hi-res support? Our current Award-winner, the Rega Elex-R, doesn’t play this game, but it has bowled over the competition on performance alone to claim two consecutive What Hi-Fi? Awards in the sub-£1000 category. But in the face of this year’s new wave of better-specified amps from the likes of legendary amp purveyors Cyrus and Audiolab, can it go on to make it a third?



Audiolab M-ONE

Cyrus ONE

Heed Audio ELIXIR

“Audiolab has created a bold-sounding amp”

“A fuss-free amp with Bluetooth? It’s the One”

“Focuses on what really matters: sound quality”

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NAD 368


Rotel A14

“Smooth, refined and muscle-bound”

“Rhythmically surefooted”

“Has an authoritative sound”

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A HISTORY OF THE DEVIL’S HORNS Former Black Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio is credited with bringing the horns to heavy metal. Using it on tour in 1979, Dio claims his Italian grandmother’s ‘malocchio’ sign will ward off the evil eye 41



Audiolab M-ONE £800 FOR Expansive soundstage; aptX Bluetooth; capable DAC

AGAINST Lean balance; treble lacks refinement

★★★★ ★

The aluminium case looks similar to that on the flagship M-DAC+

“By repurposing the successful formula of the M-DAC+, Audiolab has created a bold-sounding amp”

Anyone who’s ever tried cramming holiday clothes into a carry-on cabin suitcase will sympathise with the concept behind Audiolab’s latest integrated amplifier. How do you pack pre/power amplifier and aptX Bluetooth receiver into the same compact chassis as the company’s flagship digital-toanalogue converter, the M-DAC+, without compromising performance? Here’s how: the 40W-per-channel M-ONE. Physically, it’s very similar to the flagship M-DAC+, with the same boxy aluminium case, central OLED display and double rotary dial creating a contemporary aesthetic. It’s significantly heavier than its DAC cousin, the inclusion of the power amp adding on the pounds.

Fastidiously well-staged Calling the M-ONE ‘the M-DAC+ with amplification and Bluetooth’ would be misleading. It shares the DAC technology with Audiolab’s standalone models, but features the two-channel ESS9018 K2M chip, the ‘little brother’ of the eightchannel ESS9018 used in the M-DAC+. It nabs the headphone amp from the M-DAC+ and its predecessor the M-DAC, and you can take advantage of that via the 6.3mm jack. Two USB inputs – one type-B for PC and Mac compatibility and one type-A for Apple devices – support 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256. Single optical and coaxial inputs are 32-bit/192kHz compatible, and there’s a pair of line-level inputs. Seven sound settings for PCM files in the M-DAC+ are whittled down to three here, but join the same four settings for DSD files. 42

Predictably, the M-ONE bears a likeness to the M-DAC+’s insightful and authoritative sound, crisply drawing instruments on a soundstage that is not only big and expansive, but also fastidiously well-staged. Beyond size and scale, it distinguishes itself with generous detail, particularly in the midrange.

KEY FEATURES 32-bit/384kHz


Floating across keys The Audiolab is fluent and focused with the melodic piano in Ludovico Einaudi’s Ancora, delivering its flowing nature while ensuring each note is punctual, well defined and harmonious. It signals both dynamic upheavals and less apparent variations with ease. The piece brims with variation, no key carrying the same burden. It conjures images of the pianist’s hands floating across the keys. Rhythms are confidently rendered, if not as precisely or subtlely as through the Rega Elex-R or Heed Elixir. The collaboration between the vocal echo, snare drums, cymbals and synth riffs in Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor demands

aptX Bluetooth

tip-top timing and, even in the most convoluted section, the M-ONE avoids being tongue-tied. Instruments don’t just concern themselves with kicking in right on cue, but also with how they interplay with one another. There’s as much insight into the marching drum roll as the choppy synth hooks, which speaks volumes for the M-ONE’s democratic spread of detail. While it’s backed with some weight and muscle, tonally the presentation is a little lean. It’s not quite as immediate as the Rega or Cyrus One, but thanks to its other talents it’s sure to grow on you. There is one criticism: the treble feels rawboned, the Audiolab snagging the edge of notes at the top of the frequency range where we’d like a little more warmth. By repurposing the successful formula of the M-DAC+ for the stereo amp world, and further strengthening its validity with the addition of Bluetooth streaming, Audiolab has created a bold-sounding amp. While it’s not quite class-leading, it is certainly worthy of its illustrious predecessors and demands a listen.

Two asynchronous USB inputs support 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256



VERDICT The Audiolab M-ONE is an entertaining and well-equipped amplifier for the money, just not a class leader




Cyrus One £700 FOR Solid, insightful sound; aptX Bluetooth; phono stage

Few things are more certain in life than death, taxes and Cyrus’s consistency with stereo amplifiers. Keeping up that tradition is the One, a homage to the brand’s debut amplifier, the Cyrus 1, which helped launch the company in the mid-1980s. This new model features its latest-gen Class D amplification. The design team has gone off-piste, retaining the compact footprint of other amps in Cyrus’s arsenal but delivering a more contemporary aesthetic. And, dare we say, more exotic.

Many clever tricks Instead of the typical retro buttons and display screen, this Cyrus amp has bright LED lights that circle the matt-black volume and source-selection dials, which dominate a front panel that’s glossy and slightly protruded. It takes some getting used to, but it’s love on second sight, even if the build quality doesn’t appear to be up to Cyrus’s usual standards – in our time with it, one of the feet came away from the unit – and the casework feels a little cheap. The credit-card style remote control doesn’t feel great either. The new Cyrus One may be named after a product that launched 33 years ago, but the specs have been brought up to date. There’s no DAC, but aptX Bluetooth is on board so you can stream music from a phone, tablet or laptop. On the analogue front, there are four line-level inputs (one of which has an AV bypass mode so it can double as a power amp in a home cinema set-up) a movingmagnet phono stage, and a 6.3mm headphone and pre-amp output. The keener-eyed will notice the absence of obvious heat sinks, thanks to the use of efficient Class D technology. Take a look inside and you’ll see the use of thicker tracks on the circuit board – just one of many clever tricks Cyrus has implemented here in the quest for better sound quality. To reduce unwanted noise, signal paths have been shortened, and the path connecting the Bluetooth module to the pre-amp stage is balanced to aid performance.

AGAINST Lack a little subtlety and rhythmic precision

★★★★ ★ The Cyrus One is compact, but has a contemporary and exotic look

The brief light display when the amp powers up denotes something Cyrus calls SID (speaker impedance detection), a process whereby the impedance of the connected speakers is measured and the output response adjusted accordingly.


Spread the words Brands as consistent as Cyrus often have a specific sonic signature, but unusually for a Cyrus product review we aren’t starting off this section by using the words ‘fast’, ‘dynamic’ or ‘rhythmic’. The One surprises again, delivering a glossy and tidily balanced presentation that’s lathered with the sort of punch and solidity that makes SBTRKT’s Wildfire sound immediately arresting. The opening drums snap through our speakers with force, and the chubby bassline is freighted with plenty of weight as it moves at pace over the top. The silky pop vocal inhabits the soundstage with conviction and is fleshed out without sounding too thick or sacrificing texture. It’s not flawless, though. A lack of spatial utility and dynamic subtlety makes the labyrinthine track seem

MM phono stage

aptX Bluetooth

Dimensions (hwd) 8.5 x 22 x 39cm

The Cyrus can also double as a power amp in a home cinema set-up

congested. Rega’s Elex-R, by contrast, gives a masterclass in capturing the rhythmic wonkiness. Switch to Ólafur Arnalds’ Ljósiđ and although the Cyrus gets across the deliberate hardness of the violin without tipping it into feeling harsh or strained, it struggles to communicate the low-level dynamics of the strokes. Without that variation and subtlety, the One isn’t quite a superstar. Still, the phono stage will only encourage the vinyl-collecting habit. The Tallest Man On Earth’s Singers is a bold, insightful listen, with vocals, guitars and strings all clear and tactile. The Bluetooth presentation is acceptable, though unsurprisingly less transparent and refined than a wired alternative. When headphones are plugged in, it’s obvious the power supply disconnects from the main amplifier and dedicates itself solely to the headphone amp: sound is powerful, well driven and tonally consistent. At £700, the One is Cyrus’s most affordable stereo amplifier and, while not the complete product, it’s an attractive bundle of features, design and performance. Looking for a fuss-free amp with Bluetooth? Here’s One.



VERDICT This homage to the company’s orginal stereo amp isn’t classic Cyrus, but it is yet another solid stereo amplifier 43







Heed Audio Elixir £750 FOR Spacious soundstage; fluid dynamics; phono stage

AGAINST Lacks bass weight; Marmite design; no Bluetooth

★★ ★ ★ ★ The Elixir feels cheaper than its price, but build is solid enough

After going upmarket with the high-end Thesis range, Heed Audi returned to more humble pasture with its new Elixir: an analogueonly integrated stereo amplifier targeted at first-time hi-fi buyers. More affordable than usual for the Budapest-based brand, it sits below the Thesis and Obelisk line but borrows the design principles found in Heed’s TransCap amps (like the 2012 Award-winning Obelisk si), and has a decent outp of 50W per channel into 8 ohms (o 65W per channel into 4 ohms).

The last pick So what gives? Our first thought is that the Heed feels like a cheaper product than its price suggests. Everything, from the half-width casing (available in either black or silver) and the front panel controls to the compact remote control, feels a little too budget for our tastes, even though the actual build quality itself seems solid enough. The simple labels that light up for each don’t help the Elixir’s cause, and neither do the dodgy font choices for the logo prominently displayed on the front panel. Lined up next to its main rivals, including the Rotel A14, Audiolab M-ONE and Cyrus One, it’s likely to be your last pick on showroom appeal alone. There’s also the absence of a DAC and, unlike some of Heed’s higher-ranging models, the Elixir isn’t compatible with the brand’s separate DAC module. So digital conversion responsibilities will have to be taken care of by a CD player, streamer or any other source connected to the Elixir’s four line-level inputs. The Heed can welcome a turntable with open arms though, thanks to its built-in moving-magnet phono stage, based on the circuitry from Heed’s dedicated (and multi Award-winning) Questar phono amp. A Class-A headphone amplifier drives a 6.3mm jack found on the front panel. There are two pairs of speaker connections on board, and a pre-amp output for adding a power amp if you wish. Thankfully, no compromise has been made where sound quality is concerned, and it takes only a short time in the company of the Heed to push any

i it i Simone’s Blues for Mama, and the Heed makes a strong case. Its easy-listening balance – authoritative and bold, but not too forward – captures the playful persona of the smoky blues track from the first note. The perky piano, cymbals and distinctive vocal are all presented on a level playing field, the voice brimming with subtlety as the Elixir describes Simone’s intrinsically dulcet tone and hangs onto her every rasp.


MM phono stage

Four line-level inputs

Sensible use of space It ruminates just as much on Matt Berninger’s brooding delivery in The National’s Graceless, even if the Rega Elex-R gets into his vocal nuance more convincingly. There’s enough space around it for the emotion and expression to come through, and that’s indication of the amp’s roomy soundstage. It fills the space sensibly. Detail retrieval is ample, which applies as much to the more inconspicuous piano notes and cymbals as it does to the dominating drums, and dynamically it’s

6.3mm headphone jack

The Heed Elixir’s pared-down approach allows a focus on sound

and dovetailing the charged drumbeat and bass guitar into a logical whole. But by sacrificing a little low-end weight and richness, the Heed doesn’t quite anchor the bassline as much as it should. That remains the case as we switch to Pink Floyd’s In The Flesh? on vinyl, but elsewhere we’re impressed with the Heed’s detailed articulacy and determination to afford as much energy and power as possible to the track – good news indeed for vinyl enthusiasts.

Beginner’s luck By pitching itself as a beginner-friendly, analogue-only amp, the Heed Elixir puts itself somewhat on the back foot in terms of versatility, especially in the face of its many DAC-toting, hi-res musicsupporting rivals. Still, the pared-down approach to features has allowed Heed to focus on what really matters: sound quality. And it has paid off. The Elixir is a simple machine but, for the right buyer, is no less attractive for it.



VERDICT If you are only ever going to need analogue inputs, this entry-level Heed is well worth considering 45




NAD C 368 £800 FOR Solid and refined sound; Bluetooth; upgrade path

AGAINST Lacks a bit of get-up-and-go

★★★★ ★

The ordinarylooking chassis does have a retro air about it

For a while it looked like NAD had swallowed the ‘brave pill’. The Canadian brand dabbled with an adventurous design for its Digital series – the D 1050 and Award-winning D 3020 amps signalled a move to more contemporary casings – but things have returned to the norm with the Classic series, of which the C 368 sits in the middle. Designed from the ‘ground up’, it promises enhanced features and performance, and reduced power consumption.

Packed with functionality NAD has continued to improve its PowerDrive amplifier circuit, which is designed to optimise power delivery through a wide range of speakers. Here, the company claims 80W per channel into both 4 and 8 ohm loads. Packed with functionality, the NAD will sit as the nucleus of any hi-fi set-up. Line-level inputs are the cornerstone of every stereo amp and the NAD has two, as well as a moving-magnet phono stage. An eight-channel DAC chip, which runs in Dual Differential mode with four channels running on each side for improved resolution, allows for two coaxial and two optical inputs, while aptX Bluetooth, via a screw-on antenna, means music can be streamed from a tablet or to wireless headphones. Two slots at the rear can accommodate upgrade modules, whether it’s additional digital audio inputs such as a type-B USB for laptops, HDMI sockets with 4K passthrough or a Bluesound card to add hi-res multi-room network streaming. There’s also a preamp output to facilitate bi-amping, a 6.3mm headphone


output on the front panel, and two pairs of speaker outputs. The chassis itself is ordinary even by stereo amp standards, as are the few plastic buttons and, while it won’t win any design awards, everything from the screen to the remote carries an air of late 20th-century nostalgia about it.

“The C 368 promises enhanced features and performance – and reduced power consumption too“ KEY FEATURES

Top to bottom The NAD sounds like it looks: big and solid from top to bottom. Whether we connect through one of its analogue or coaxial inputs, the sonic presentation’s warmth and fullbodiedness emerges, laid bare by the arrangement of Lay Down In The Tall Grass by Timber Timbre. The NAD examines each note of the schmaltzy bassline without slowing it down. The high-pitched piano sounds precise without being harsh. The NAD’s wide-open and scrupulous soundstage drips with detail, communicating the band’s spooky sonic persona. It wades through the swampy reverbed vocal, affording it refinement without letting that mask the heartfelt sentiment behind it. It’s quite content with rhythms too, and has no problem travelling through the agile and rich melodies of

80W per channel


MM Phono stage

Supertramp’s Breakfast In America. However, erring on the side of caution, the C 638 can sound a little restrained with upbeat songs. We’d like it to take some cues from the Rega Elex-R when it comes to liveliness. As expected, the Bluetooth presentation sacrifices a little refinement and clarity, and dynamics take a hit too, but Hyde & Beast’s Open Your Heart is still an engaging listen thanks to plenty of insight into the piano notes. The NAD C 368 ticks a lot of boxes as a successful stereo amp. It’s not only well connected but has a pleasantly smooth, refined and muscle-bound sound that’s very agreeable indeed – even if, by being a touch safe-sounding, it’s leapfrogged by more complete rivals before it’s even had the chance to touch its toes.

says The C 368 can stream music to headphones via Bluetooth


VERDICT The C368 is a solid, articulate and well-equipped performer which delivers an easy-listening experience




Rega Elex-R £900 FOR Articulate performer; fine rhythmic ability; solid build

AGAINST The feature count is rather limited

★★ ★ ★ ★ The casework is functional, but the Rega Elex-R feels like it’s built to last

Michael Phelps wouldn’t be considered the greatest Olympian of all time had he settled for his gold rush in 2004. Likewise the Rega Elex-R, which won its first Award in 2014, and then beat the Arcam A29 and Audiolab 8300A last year. It must now defeat yet another wave of competition to earn a third consecutive What Hi-Fi? Award. But with that competition including new entries from Cyrus and NAD, the Rega has certainly got its work cut out this time.

Sense of energy Build quality is as solid as we expect from Rega and, while the casework is functional rather than luxurious, it feels as though it will last. In fact, our sample has been a staple in our hi-fi test room for almost three years. We’re still a little disappointed with the remote, though, which lacks the solidity of rival handsets. By using the much admired Brio-R as a base, and adding circuit elements from the talented Elicit-R (£1600) into the mix, Rega has created one of the best sub-£1000 amplifiers we’ve heard. Anyone familiar with Rega’s current amplifier range will recognise the Elex-R’s sonic character. It delivers a fast, agile sound that’s as rhythmically surefooted as anything at this level. With Macklemore and Lewis’ Thrift Shop, it’s head and shoulders above the Cyrus One, Audiolab M-ONE or Rotel A14 when it comes to rendering rhythms. A combination of impressive timing, spaciousness and dynamics means even in complex pieces of music, nothing ever sounds remotely random or like the Rega is freewheeling. There’s an addictive sense of liveliness and energy, something some rivals tend

to tone down in the search for greater refinement. It demonstrates authority and scale better than anything we’ve heard at this price too. It’s right at home with a vocal-led piece like Nina Simone’s I Put A Spell On You. There’s a real sense of rawness and realism in her deep, guttural delivery, and the Rega conveys nuances better than any of its peers. Tonally, the Elex-R edges towards leanness, so avoid pairing with bright or harsh speakers – we use a range from Dali’s lively Zensor 3s and Dynaudio’s Emit M20s to ATC SCM11s and PMC Twenty 26s, and at no point does the Rega fail to shine. It’s as happy picking out finer threads of detail in the convoluted sections of Hans Zimmer’s Mountains from the Interstellar soundtrack, as it is unveiling variation in hammering electrics in Band of Horses’ NW Apt. Of course a power output of 72W per channel into 8ohms isn’t enough to make the floor shake, but this amp is capable of decent levels in most set-ups.

“The Rega Elex-R delivers a fast, agile sound that’s as rhythmically surefooted as anything at this level” KEY FEATURES

Power output: 72W

MM phono stage

No headphone output

It’s a relatively quiet circuit, one that keeps all the good sonic points we noted in the line stages. There are four line-level inputs, one tape out, and a single preamp output should you need to add a bit more muscle. That’s probably enough for most purist stereo set-ups, although the absence of a built-in headphone output is a slight snag, considering its inclusion in so many rival amps. The Elex-R is a mighty fine achievement – the kind of product that gets straight to the heart of the music and conveys all the emotion in the recording with ease. Two years have passed since it first scooped an Award and, despite the increasing number of very good amps around the £1000 mark, the Rega has more than enough talent across the board to continue to shine.

A fine achievement If you want a traditional stereo amp, the Rega remains on sure ground. There are no digital inputs – instead you get a good-quality MM phono stage, one that’s talented enough to make the most of £1000 turntable packages like Rega’s own RP6, for example.

says The Rega Elex-R is a traditional stereo amp, no digital inputs here


VERDICT The Elex-R remains a stellar performer, even though many of its rivals are loaded with more features 47




Rotel A14 £1000 FOR Bold presentation; impressive connections

AGAINST Rhythmically bettered; needs more subtlety

★ ★★ ★ ★

Each input has a button, making the A14’s façade busy but polished

Rotel is like the friend you can rely on to have everything in your time of need – plasters, Paracetamol, an elastic band. The exhaustive functionality of its previous models has been impressive to say the least, and the A14 – the flagship integrated amplifier in the brand’s new A-range – is just as well equipped. A moving-magnet phono stage taps into the vinyl renaissance, aptX Bluetooth caters for smartphone streaming, and a 32-bit/768kHz DAC aids the digital inputs to welcome your streamer, CD player, set-top box… Two optical and coaxial inputs apiece, compatible with hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz, join a type-A USB port for iOS devices (and a second solely for charging devices), as well as a type-B USB for playback from a laptop or PC. The latter handles DSD 64 and 128 and is compatible with ‘class 1’ (restricted at 24-bit/96kHz) and ‘class 2’ (supports 32-bit/384Hz) USB interfaces. Four line-level inputs and a 3.5mm headphone jack complete the bill. You’ll spot an ethernet socket on the rear panel, but don’t get your hopes up – it’s simply there for software updates rather than facilitating any network streaming.

Just a façade Each input has its own button beneath the LED display screen, making it quick to switch between them. The façade of the full-width chassis (available in silver or black) is busy, but polished enough to look like it belongs to the 21st century. Even outputs exceed expectations thanks to a second pair of speaker terminals for hooking up – you guessed it – a second pair of speakers. A preamp output means you can add extra

horsepower by way of an additional power amp, though you won’t need to rush out and buy one.

Prickly production The A14 gives every impression of its 160W output (20W per channel more than the A12 it sits above), with a powerful, authoritative sound. Its emphatic delivery of Kendrick Lamar’s King Kunta showcases its athleticism, driving it forward and throwing conviction behind the rap. It allows the intentionally prickly production to come through, but also has the refinement and balance to ensure it isn’t uncomfortably overstated. The A14’s soundstage shows fine instrument separation and spaciousness. The funky bassline that underpins the tempo for the track’s lyrical structure has heft aplenty, even if it could shimmy along more quickly. The treble’s rather thin character is more noticeable, the scratchy synths opening The Naked and Famous’ Young Blood coming through as a little zingy. That’s emphasised as we switch from line-level to the PC-USB input, which suffers from a slight loss of warmth and weight in comparison but is a decent alternative when it comes to detail and precision – especially for hi-res tracks.

“The exhaustive functionality of Rotel’s amps is impressive, and the A14 is just as well equipped“ KEY FEATURES

MM phono stage



But the beautiful piano sequence of Ludovico Einaudi’s Oltremare lacks the delicate touch and dynamic subtlety of the Heed, let alone the Rega Elex-R, and is not as intimate as it should be. It’s clear the Rotel has what it takes to draw you in, but doesn’t necessarily have the talent to keep you there. The Rega takes it for rhythmic articulacy and transparency too. Play Badly Drawn Boy’s Stone on the Water and some notes that have purpose via the Rega stray from the Rotel. The Rotel A14 has its strengths, mainly its impressive connections and bold, authoritative sound. But without the transparency and rhythmic dexterity of more affordable class leaders, it can’t be hailed one of the more illustrious stereo amps of Rotel’s career. Not even close.

says Rotel’s reputation for well-equipped amps continues with the A14

Rating ★★★ ★


VERDICT Despite an impressive specification list, the Rotel A14 is let down by a lack of subtlety and rhythmic ability 49





Rega Elex-R £900 ★★★★★

These go well with your new stereo amp

Never mind the features, this Award-winner proves that performance is still key

CD PLAYER Naim CD 5 si ★★ ★ ★ ★ £1080 As musical as they come at this price

Today’s stereo a p the vinyl resurgence, pledged themse to digital and hi-res audio and support Bluetooth streaming. But when it comes to the driving force behind your system, ultimately performance must be king. That’s why our current Award-winner, the Rega Elex-R, which is solely analogue, wins this test. Its supremacy lies largely in its rhythmic expressiveness, its conviction in tying together musical strands and unveiling an extra level of transparency. Still, the challengers aren’t left with tails between legs, and provide choice for those whose priorities lie as much with digital inputs and Bluetooth as out-and-out sound quality. Cyrus has set itself a benchmark for stereo amps, so anything less than five stars is disappointing. The ONE, while an attractive bundle of performance, features and design, doesn’t quite have

STEREO SPEAKERS Dynaudio Emit M20 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £600 As meticulous as they are adaptable

the rhythmic complete what is an otherwise soli engaging performance.

Total build £2580

Sonic wishlist After the success of the Audiolab M-DAC (and M-DAC+), expectations are sky-high for the brand’s M-ONE. Sadly its lean tonal balance, thin upper frequencies and rhythmic subordination are an obstacle to a fifth star. Still, the brand’s insightful and articulate sound and commitment to digital, with hi-res and DSD support, are reason enough to audition this amp. Likewise, the NAD C 368 is bound to find a fan base for its well-featured, digital-friendly attitude, especially with those who have sonic refinement and solidity high up on their wishlist. With a bit more energy and

rhythmic prowess, it would be hard to deny the NAD of a full star-set too. Those looking for a more traditional amp can’t go wrong with the four-star Heed Audio Elixir. With a focus on performance, the Elixir’s pure, weighty, and tonally balanced delivery is one of the more engaging in this test. The least entertaining is the Rotel A14, which plays it safe and in turn lacks the transparency and rhythmic togetherness of its more affordable rivals – something its generous functionality and goodlooking build can’t quite make up for.



Audiolab M-ONE, £800 No

Cyrus One, £700 Yes

Heed Audio Elixir, £750 Yes









Headphone out




Remote control




Dimensions (hwd)

11 x 25 x 29cm

8.5 x 22 x 39cm

9 x 22 x 36cm

Phono stage

NAD C 368, £800 Yes

Rega Elex-R, £900 Yes

Rotel A14, £1000 Yes









Headphone out




Remote control




Dimensions (hwd)

7 x 44 x 40cm

8 x 43 x 32cm

9 x 43 x 35cm



Power If you are yet to bag yourself a wireless speaker or are looking to upgrade, these three make a strong claim on your cash. One, though, stands out


ummer’s over, but does that mean we should pack away our portable wireless speakers until the sun retrieves his hat? Not as far as we’re concerned. It might take a real quality speaker with plenty of talent at its disposal to tempt us to grab our coats, collect the firewood and take the party outside, but if anything is going to coax us away from our central heating and indoor hi-fi systems, it’s likely to be one of these three contenders. Will the KEF Muo defend its Awards crown at this price point, or can the Onkyo X9 or Dali Katch prove there’s better value elsewhere? The Onkyo has high-resolution compatibility on its side but, as we’ve seen elsewhere, that’s no guarantee of superiority. And will any of them be good enough to convince your friends to party in the rain? Let’s find out…


Dali Katch £330

KEF Muo £300

Join us on Spotify & Tidal Listen to our favourite tracks every month!

Onkyo X9 £270






Dali Katch £330 FOR Powerful, full-bodied sound; dynamics; battery life

AGAINST Nothing at this price

Like a political ad campaign aimed at attracting the youth vote, Dali has continued swapping Cs for Ks in the title of its latest wireless speaker offering, the Katch. (Though a quick search of the ‘Urban Dictionary’ reveals that Dali may not expect to sell many units in Bulgaria.) Placing the Katch on the table in front of us, we get our first feel of what £330 buys you: satisfyingly weighty, but not forgoing its portability, and seemingly robust while remaining easy on the eye.

only because the Katch seemingly always has room to go further, defying its size with colossal thumps, but also because dynamically it fills us with anticipation for the grimy waltz-like riff that is to come. When that riff finally arrives, the Dali is far from overawed by the track’s demanding instrumentation. There’s plenty of detail picked out from sawing guitars and multi-tracked strings, deep digs into the soil of wails and drones that tail off each phrase. The size of the sound is quite simply incredible for something of the Katch’s stature. Let’s not get carried away. You won’t be replacing your entire hi-fi with this one speaker – but you could well be clearing bookshelves to find it a home. Switch to Ghostpoet’s remarkable Shedding Skin and the Dali’s aptitude is proven to go beyond the instrumental. Obaro Ejimiwe’s vocal delivery is

The raw materials Inside the neat casing (with retractable handle) are two 21mm soft-dome tweeters and a pair of aluminium woofers, measuring almost 9cm, driven by a Class-D amplifier which Dali claims can output 2 x 25W of power. If you don’t want to play your music via Bluetooth, Dali has also included a 3.5mm auxiliary connection and a USB charge connector into which it suggests plugging a Chromecast Audio dongle to integrate your home network. We connect a Mac via Bluetooth (easy) and load up Tidal to play Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress and are taken aback by each bar of the drum kit’s crescendo on Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’. Not 54

Weighty yet portable, the Katch has a retractable carrying handle

★★ ★ ★ ★

2 x 18W power output

24 hours battery life

characteristically relaxed, but the Katch still gives it a velvety, expressive dimension, not to mention loads of body. Harmonies on tracks such as Be Right Back, Moving House are spacious yet tied together smoothly.

A whole new level We already had an inkling KEF’s Award-winning Muo might be in trouble, but we weren’t sure just how much until we set the pair head-to-head. Dali has improved on pretty much every aspect of last year’s standard – and that is not to do the Muo a disservice. But the Katch has raised the bar significantly. It isn’t cheap, but this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for.

says aptX Bluetooth


VERDICT As it stands, the Dali Katch certainly wouldn’t look out of place among the 2016 What Hi-Fi? Award-winners




KEF Muo £300 FOR Clear, musical sound; surefooted organisation; build In 2008, KEF launched the high-end Muon speakers. They were limitededition aluminium towers, sculpted by industrial designer Ross Lovegrove, and they cost £140,000 per pair. Yikes! Thankfully their pint-sized descendant, our Award-winner at this price point in 2015, is a lot more accessible. The Muo may be cheaper than its relative, but the premium pedigree is immediately apparent. The grille gives it the same sculpted hourglass aesthetic of the Muon and helps make it one of the more attractive portable wireless speakers we’ve seen.

Nothing wet here It feels pretty tough too, and its weight and structural integrity are consistent with something Colonel Mustard might use in the library. It doesn’t have any waterproofing skills, however, which rules out taking the Muo to rainy festivals or summer picnics. On the inside are two 5cm drivers and a bass radiator. The drivers are an unusual design where the diaphragm is a combination of dome and cone sections, decoupled with a flexible membrane. The idea is to emulate the behaviour and characteristics of KEF’s Uni-Q drivers in a simpler, more mechanical way.

AGAINST Newer competitors have raised the bar

★★ ★ ★ ★

One of the main features here is Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX. No Bluetooth? Then you can connect with a 3.5mm cable, though it’s not included.

Things are moving on Fine, but does the audio performance still stand up after a year’s-worth of improvements by its competitors? To an extent, yes. The KEF Muo is a versatile performer, capable of doing portable justice to Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and Prince’s Like A Mack alike. It brings an undeniable energy to the party. This performance is defined by clarity, tight timing and relatively wide dynamics. Insight and panache are immediately apparent – an impression that never wavers as we switch from cheesy rock to commercial pop via cinematic soundtrack (Kiss, Taylor Swift and Star Wars, in case you’re wondering). It’s all hugely musical. Considering the box is merely 21cm long, there’s a good sense of space – but

Multi-room option

12 hours battery life

you shouldn’t expect it to rock the room. But what the Muo lacks in scale and brute force it makes up for with articulacy. The KEF Muo can be used horizontally or vertically, but we prefer the sound when it is placed horizontally, as it feels more balanced and focused. For the most part this is enough to keep it near the top of the tree in this price bracket, but there’s no getting away from the fact the industry has moved on somewhat over the past 12 months. Pit it against the Dali Katch, for example, and you see that an extra £30 will get you greater scale, far more space, a greater sense of dynamics, and a more detailed and musical sound. It’s still well worth an audition though.

says aptX Bluetooth


You can position the Muo vertically or horizontally. We prefer the latter

VERDICT Other brands are now besting the Muo but we wouldn’t put it past KEF to make improvements to it soon 55




Onkyo X9 £270 FOR Scale and dynamics; can play hi-res files; built to last

AGAINST Competitors offer better organisation and detail

As anyone who’s studied the laws of the school playground will know, being first isn’t always best. That hasn’t deterred Onkyo, however, which has billed the X9 as the first high-resolution audio portable speaker. It’s quite a USP: this HRA-accredited speaker can connect to your PC or laptop via USB to play PCM formats up to 24-bit/96kHz and play (but downsample) 24-bit/192kHz files. There’s still the opportunity to stream via Bluetooth or plug a source into a 3.5mm jack – it’s just there’s now the scope to go one better.

but in that, for this price, the X9 can combine that soundstage with such musical sensibility. The detail isn’t phenomenal, but there’s more insight than from many competitors. What’s best about the sound, though, is what it does with that insight. The dynamics are as delicate as they are entertaining, the timing is pleasing and there are no hard edges or wobbly low end. We aren’t going to pass up the opportunity to play some hi-res files either. Plugging into a Mac, we play FLAC files of Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm’s Loon, downloaded from Onkyo’s own hi-res music service. Compared with the same track played through Tidal but with lower bit-rate, there is a step up in terms of detail, but the X9 is still restricted within the confines of its own ability. Being tethered to a laptop, it raises a question about the speaker’s

Something substantial The X9’s scale and weight, almost one-and-a-half kilograms, mean it isn’t the easiest to carry around, but it feels satisfyingly robust. Underneath its slim, curved shell is a driver set-up that appears to confirm that notion. You’re looking at a pair of 5cm mid/bass drivers, two 19mm tweeters and two passive radiators, one of which is visible from the rear. We begin connecting via Bluetooth and stream 65daysofstatic’s No Man’s Sky soundtrack, Music For An Infinite Universe. The first thing we notice is the power and the scale of the sound, which is impressive not only in absolute terms 56

★★ ★ ★ ★ purpose – are we striving for the best-possible sound, even at the expense of portability? If played in the house we’d probably go for the least-mobile option. Two passive radiators

10-hour battery life

Scale, range and resolution Sitting the Onkyo next to the KEF Muo and Dali Katch, admittedly each costing more and more again respectively, reveals improvements. Those busy recordings are better organised by the Muo, though without the scale or dynamic range of the X9, whereas the Katch is a step up in each respect (though it doesn’t offer hi-res compatibility). But, whatever the opposition, Onkyo has delivered a product with scale and musicality that mustn’t be ignored.


says Hi-res capability


Not the easiest to carry around, but the curved X9 is a robust piece of kit

VERDICT If you covet power but don’t want to surrender musical sensibility, you could do a lot worse than plump for the X9




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CALL 03448 488 806 quoting WHIFP16 or visit

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Dali Katch £330 ★★★★★ It’s all change at the top…

Rarely has an Award-winner been so clearly beaten. In the fast-moving realm of wireless-speaker technology, perhaps we ought to expect a more regular changeover of power, but it still took us by surprise.

Sudden realisation Once we’d heard the Dali Katch take on the KEF Muo, however, suddenly the KEF unit sounded closed, bereft of much of the dynamic nuance and punch that took it to the top of the pile last year. Dali just does pretty much everything better. Without denigrating the Muo’s achievements, the difference between it and the Katch is marked – even

It’s not just a pretty (and very portable) face, it’s something of a sonic revelation

taking into consideration the £30 difference in price. For those who value sonic organisation above everything else, the Muo is still a commendable purchase, but Dali has designed a speaker with no obvious faults at this price. The Katch both entertained and engaged us, raising the bar for this sector of the market. It integrates extra technology to aid sound (depending on whether is placed on a table or a shelf) as well as boasting a 24-hour battery life. There’s much to be proud of for Onkyo, whose X9 speaker offers a

delicate, easily listenable sound that holds its own even when pitted against two more expensive options. There’s quite a jump in price between the X9 and the Katch, for which you get more space, detail and body – and some busier tracks aren’t quite as surefooted with their delivery as on the Muo – but this is a smart alternative for those who want to save the extra £60. 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



Dali Katch


Onkyo X9












Yes 10 hours


24 hours

12 hours

Dimensions (hwd)

14 x 27 x 4cm

8 x 21 x 6cm

14 x 30 x 6cm




1474g 59


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Join us on Spotify & Tidal Listen to our favourite tracks every month! 61




Arcam AVR390 £2000 FOR Clear, crisp detail; Dirac functionality; stylish design

AGAINST A lack of scale and authority compared with some

The AVR390 is Arcam’s attempt to bring the performance of its high-end AV amps to a more affordable level. It has taken the unusual approach of using the front-end circuitry, pre-amp section and all processing straight from the rangetopping £4500 AVR850 in a bid to deliver top-class sound. To meet the £2000 price point, something had to give. In this case, it’s the power amp section and the power supply which Arcam has toned down to hit the AVR390’s price point.

vTuner Internet Radio and Spotify Connect available. You don’t have to spend long with the AVR390 to twig that Arcam has designed it to be simple to use. The smooth buttons on its face and centred volume dial feel of even greater quality than the controls on the Yamaha RX-A3060.

★★★★ ★

“The sound moves smoothly from the front let of the soundfield, behind your head, eventually coming back around as Sully breaks the surface”

Conventional approach The company has swapped the AVR850’s expensive and complex Class G power amplification for a more conventional Class A/B alternative. Accordingly, power output has gone down – from the AVR850’s 200W maximum to 80W (when driving two channels). The power supply is also far less elaborate in terms of capacity, and it’s because of these changes that this amplifier can provide all the major features of Arcam’s top product at only half the price. The highlight of the AVR390’s processing prowess is the ‘Dirac’ set-up software, which is designed to optimise your speakers’ performance in your listening room by accounting for room acoustics and the speakers’ design.

External software The AVR390 doesn’t have the processing power on board to perform the initial calculations, so the Dirac software needs to be downloaded to your computer from the Arcam website. The process takes multiple readings around the listening position, and that data is then fed back into the amp. While you can go through this process yourself, we would recommend you let your dealer manage that side of things – the Dirac parameters can be adjusted manually, and the dealer’s experience should mean they’re likely to achieve the best results. Once you’ve got all that set up, you certainly shouldn’t be short of media to play on the Arcam. It supports MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, and MPEG-4 AAC at 24-bit/96kHz, and has HDCP2.2 and 3D. There’s also 62

The universal remote control is also sleeker than Yamaha’s, featuring an eight-second backlight whenever a button is pressed and multiple Device Mode keys that change the functionality of the remote based on its source, which is a nice touch. The AVR390 has seven HDMI inputs, a USB port, wi-fi and ethernet connection alongside the expected digital inputs and FM/DAB radio antenna. It doesn’t, though, have any inputs on its front. This keeps it The AVR390’s Dirac processing takes into consideration a looking sleek but number of factors when calculating room equalisation. Principal also makes it among these are the type of speakers the amp is working with, how far away they are, their level, and any problematic room effects that might need correction. Arcam says that, by default, room equalisation is not applied to any of the source inputs on the AVR390, so you’ll need to enable it yourself. However, the company does recommend trying to solve these issues directly through proper loudspeaker placement, acoustic wall treatments and changing your listening position first.

Sonic customisation

Round the back everything is clear and wellorganised. Much like the Arcam’s sound, in fact


What the app can do The AVR390 can be controlled using the MusicLife app, letting you adjust the volume of the speakers and subwoofer, turn the amp on or off, and change inputs. A ‘Navigation’ tab lets you adjust menu settings and the four directional buttons found in the middle of the remote, while the ‘Media’ tab has the Play, Pause, and Skip buttons, as well as toggling subtitles. If you’re an app fanatic, and want to take control of your amplifier using your smartphone, Arcam’s MusicLife can be downloaded from the iOS AppStore and the Google Play store.

390 can’t quite capture all the emotion of either the surreal environment or the characters in the film. While the Arcam does a good job in bringing Pandora to your living room, the Yamaha does a better job of actually transporting you there. Changing to a more musical number, the documentary ilm of Michael Jackson’s rehearsals and preparation’s for This Is It, the amp keeps the King of Pop’s bouncing beats and high vocals nicely organised.

Easy living in harmony more difficult to plug in any extra video sources, such as a camcorder, quickly. If your neighbours are desperate to show you their holiday videos, you’re almost certainly going to be fiddling around trying to squeeze an HDMI cable into the back of the amp.

Sounds natural Putting on James Cameron’s Avatar – a great test of an amp’s ability to convey the realism of alien flora and fauna – the AVR390 manages marine Jake Sully’s exploration into the forest with relish. In the fifth chapter, the Helicoradium spirale (a plant that looks like a biological series of interconnected horns) rapidly retracts into the earth – the AVR390 conveys the sound of each section of the plant clearly and with great definition. And when Sully sweeps his arm across the plants, and each one shrinks into the ground with an inrush of air and a sucking sound, there’s an enjoyably clear distinction between the start of the plants’ movements and their end. When the aggressive dinosaur-like Thanator attacks Sully, the noises as he

dips and dives between roots and across the grasses remain crisp and detailed – in his final leap to escape the beast into the waterfall and his plunge into the lake, the Arcam makes a good job of conveying Sully’s immersion in the water by surrounding you with the noise of bubbles rising and the wash of his powerful arm strokes. The sound of the current moves smoothly from the front left of the soundfield, behind your head, eventually coming back around as Sully breaks the surface of the pool for air.

Express yourself To its credit, the Arcam does deliver a very neat experience, but it isn’t as fun or expressive as the Yamaha, which recreates the underwater effect with more drama than the AVR390. What the AVR390 lacks, and the Yamaha provides, is greater scale and authority in its soundfield, something that’s powerful enough to make you feel as if you’re sitting on another world. The planet feels just that bit smaller coming from Arcam’s amp, and that means the

Dolby Atmos 7.1.4

DTS:X ready

When it comes to stereo music and soundtracks, it’s easy to follow the harmonies of any track, and even in the more complex numbers that have a huge range of instruments, each one still remains clear, detailed and punchy. By the standards of the Yamaha, the results lack a bit of scale and punch, but it again remains an entertaining experience. The Arcam AVR390 is a capably organised ampliier that majors on clarity and reveals a lot of the detail in whatever it’s playing. But the competition here is tough, and the Yamaha shows just what can be achieved for £2000.

4K upscaling/ passthrough



VERDICT A well-designed amp with great detail and organisation, but it needs a touch more weight and dynamic expression 63




Yamaha RX-A3060 £2000 FOR Breathtaking dynamics; power; immersive soundfield

AGAINST Remote control looks and feels cheap

Each titan has its rival, and in this instance Yamaha’s RX-A3060 is battling Arcam’s AVR390 for superiority in the £2000 home cinema space. Yamaha’s Aventage AV receivers are billed as the high-performance members of the family, and their premium status is evident straight out of the box. Free the RX-A3060 from its polystyrene and cardboard shackles and the amp’s 18kg body not only gives you a decent workout, it also helps cement the impression that this is a completely different beast when compared with Yamaha’s budget models. The amp’s chassis, legs and frame have been strengthened, while the amp also features Yamaha’s A.R.T. (AntiResonance Technology). This takes the form of a fifth foot attached to the bottom of the amp, which Yamaha claims minimises the impact of vibrations on sound quality. The look and the feel of the 3060 befit a higher class of amp too. The smooth, clean lines of the Yamaha’s aluminium front panel give it a graceful, not-tooindustrial look.

for anything. It’s a nine-channel amplifier, with all the processing on board required to handle multiple zones of audio and multiple flavours of surround sound. Dolby Atmos in 7.1.2 and 5.1.4 guises and DTS:X are both covered – Yamaha even has its own surround processing

Hidden goodies Push the bottom edge of the front aluminium panel and it drops down like a high-end drawbridge, giving you access to additional controls and inputs. Among these are an Apple-compatible USB socket, a headphone jack and an extra HDMI input (which comes in handy if you want to hook up an external source such as a digital camera). Both input and volume dials feel solid, and their slick action inspires conidence. The speed at which the volume rises or falls depending on the vigour of your twisting just adds to the user appeal. There are two different finishes to choose from. Our review sample is in titanium but, if you’d prefer something a bit more discreet, a more traditional black version is available. The only thing that lets the side down, in our opinion, is the remote control. It’s cluttered and feels like the kind of wand you’d get with a budget receiver, not a £2000 model. The lack of a backlight will have you fumbling around in the dark too. As you’d probably expect at this price, the Yamaha RX-A3060 doesn’t want


★★ ★ ★ ★

“First there’s the faint whistle of the bomb. It hits and there’s an eerie moment of silence before the Yamaha delivers two gut-wrenching explosions” mode, Cinema DSP H3, which you can apply to these object-base surround modes or a standard 5.1 or 7.1 speaker set-up for a more spatial sound.

In the stream of things Wi-fi and ethernet are present, which helps turn the Yamaha into a hub for any streamed music in your house. AirPlay, Bluetooth and DLNA let you stream from smartphones, laptops and NAS devices. Yamaha also provides native support for Qobuz, which is good news for One thing you can expect at this level is plenty of inputs, and the Yamaha delivers. Eight HDMI inputs are at your disposal (one on the front), while a couple of HDMI outputs allow the amp to beam a picture to a second screen. All HDMI connections are capable of Ultra HD 4K/60p and HDR passthrough. They are also HDCP 2.2 certified so there will be no handshake issues should you want to connect a 4K Blu-ray player. There’s also support for 24-bit/192kHz WAV and FLAC files as well as a built-in phono stage.

Copious connectivity

Anyone who wants more connectivity than this will probably never be happy


What the app can do Because it is part of Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room system, the RX-A3060 can transmit audio to a Bluetooth speaker or a pair of headphones. MusicCast lets you stream content from and to other Yamaha kit using the MusicCast Controller app. You can control the basic functions of the amp through the MusicCast Controller app (iOS and Android), or to gain in-depth access to the settings you can download Yamaha’s AV Controller app.

Thanks to the Yamaha’s dynamism and control, it manages to balance it all perfectly, and places you within a more expansive audio space than the Arcam does. In such a large audio atmosphere, the quiet moments have just as much impact as the earth-shattering explosions. When Wolverine’s battling the Yakuza henchmen on the high-speed train, lesser amps can sound brash. The Yamaha, in contrast, simply sounds real.

You’re really hearing voices

subscribers of the CD-quality streaming service. There’s also Spotify Connect, Napster and vTuner internet radio built in too. Yamaha includes its trusty YPAO calibration system and mic, which takes multiple measurements of your speakers from different positions to get the best set-up for your room. It works very well.

Modes of operation It wouldn’t be a Yamaha surround amp without a wealth of processing modes to choose from, and on that front the RX-A3060 doesn’t disappoint. From Sci-Fi to Sports, a Church in Freiburg to The Roxy Theatre, you can tweak the Yamaha’s sound to match content or mimic a location. But to hear this amp sounding its best, you need to engage its Pure Audio setting, which switches off all unnecessary circuitry. Find a particularly fast-paced soundtrack (we watch The Wolverine from start to finish) and the difference between it turned on and off is quite startling. The RX-A3060 sounds

clearer, more detailed and even more dynamic. We’re big fans. The RX-A3060 is a wonderfully talented amp, and even during the brief 20th Century Fox opening sequence it manages to give you a small taste of its dynamic prowess. As the amp flicks through the pages of the Marvel comic it builds from slow and delicate, and ever-so subtly the pages start turning more quickly and with more vigour. The opening chapter of the film flashes back to Nagasaki, moments before the atomic bomb is dropped. The scene is high on tension and detail, and the Yamaha laps it all up. First there’s the faint, high-pitched whistle of the bomb hurtling towards the ground. It hits its target and there’s an eerie moment of silence before the Yamaha delivers two gut-wrenching explosions, followed by a wave of damage and destruction. As Wolverine tries to shield the Japanese soldier from the carnage, the sound of flying debris is punctuated by a couple of short, sharp bursts of silence.

8 HDMI inputs

Spotify Connect

Dialogue comes through loud and clear too. Whether it’s Wolverine’s grizzly bark or Mirako’s more gentle, soothing tone, the Yamaha captures the emotion well. The same can be said with music too. Play Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel over Spotify Connect or as a CD-quality stream, and the track’s beat sounds powerful and solid but never overpowering or too intense. It also manages to capture the fun, easy-going nature of the track better than the Arcam. The Yamaha’s powerful dynamics, vibrancy, and expansive soundfield not only make its five-star status deserved, they push it ahead of the Arcam AVR390.

4K Upscaling/ passthrough



VERDICT The RX-A3060 is a seriously talented AV receiver. It has a premium price – and the performance to match 65




Naim NAC-N 272 | Streamer | £3400

Time to get serious about streaming FOR Terrific streamer/preamp; fine features; insightful sound

AGAINST DAB and FM tuners are an extra cost

There are only two things you need to know about Naim’s NAC-N 272: it’s a fully featured streaming preamplifier, and it sounds lovely. We could conclude what would be the shortest review in What Hi-Fi?’s 40-year history right here, but that would leave us a number of blank pages, so let us elaborate.

time when the company’s products sported only DINs, but thankfully this attitude has become far less dogmatic over the past decade and a half. This is also an up-to-date unit, so there are digital inputs. There’s a good range of optical and coaxial connections alongside aptX Bluetooth – Bluetooth would have been unthinkable in a high-end product just a few years ago, but an increasing number of high-end manufacturers are waking up to the fact that wireless connectivity is a good thing. And Naim’s one of them.

The crucial difference Streaming preamp? This may not seem particularly special. After all, there isn’t a shortage of music streamers that also have a volume control. The NAC-N 272 isn’t like most of them though. It uses a fully analogue preamp section, much like the designs seen in Naim’s more upmarket offerings, so performance through the analogue inputs – one DIN and two RCAs – has the potential to be really good. Most rivals tend to prioritise the digital circuits, leaving the quality of the analogue section distinctly secondbest. That certainly isn’t the case here. Naim has long been a fan of DIN connections, believing they sound better than the RCA alternatives. There was a The remote’s neat enough, but we’d recommend the well laid-out app


Doing the circuit Naim being Naim, a great deal of engineering care has been undertaken to avoid such features spoiling the sound. The digital and analogue sections communicate through optical isolation chips to minimise any interference. As is usual for the company, plenty of care has been taken in getting the circuit layout right and the power-supply arrangement just so. Even so, the 272, like other Naim products, is easily upgradeable through

★★ ★ ★ ★ one of the company’s outboard power supplies. These aren’t cheap, starting at £1800 for the XP5 XS and all the way up to £6k for the 555PS – but in our experience the sonic improvement tends to be obvious. The unit’s outputs mirror the connectivity of the analogue inputs by offering both DIN and RCA options. There’s also a line-level output if you want to use the 272 as a stand-alone streamer and plug it into your existing amplifier. This is a well-specified unit. It will stream at a maximum of 24-bit/192kHz across your network, and handle DSD 64 should you have such files. All the main file formats are covered, from FLAC and AIFF right through to Apple Lossless. Spotify Connect is built in, as is native support for Tidal – and if that isn’t enough, there’s the big, wide world of internet radio to enjoy. Analogue radio fans haven’t been forgotten in the fast-flowing current of streaming: there’s an optional DAB/DAB+/FM module available too for an extra £300.

Familiar – and reassuring Build quality is as solid as we’ve come to expect from Naim. The 272 doesn’t feel particularly luxurious but does give off a no-nonsense air that suggests a focused, well-engineered design. The front panel control count is low for a product such as this; it is backed up with a clear display that’s large enough to read from across a room, even in bright lighting conditions.

While many streamers neglect analogue inputs, the Naim makes them a priority


The 272 is straightforward to set up. Its menus are easy to use and it connects to our network swiftly. While going wireless is an option, we always prefer to take the wired ethernet route as it intrinsically offers greater stability. While Naim supplies a standard remote with the 272, we think users will be better served by the company’s control app. This has gone through numerous evolutions and, on the whole, works well. Android and iOS versions are available, and there’s no great difference in performance between them. The app is well laid out and pretty easy to use.

Natural bedfellows Our review unit was supplied with a NAP 250 DR power amplifier. At £3600 it’s a logical partner, as might be the more affordable, lower-powered NAP 200 DR (£2050). While the 272 is more than happy driving alternative power amplifiers – it works well with our reference Gamut D200i, for example – we suspect the vast majority will find themselves in an all-Naim set-up. We have no issue with that, as such combinations ensure compatibility not only in electrical terms, but also when it comes to sonic character. During the review period we use a range of

speakers, from our reference ATC SCM50s right the way through to the PMC Twenty5 22s and Dynaudio’s Emit M20s. None throw up any compatibility issues. Just to ensure we are getting the best out of this Naim, we leave it running for the best part of a week before we start any serious listening. And it’s worth the wait, as the sound becomes clearer and more fluid over time.

Sweet ‘tooth Once up and running the NAC-N 272 turns out to be a superb performer regardless of source. We start by using Bluetooth and find the wireless connection to be swift and stable. Using a Sony Xperia Z3 as our source we’re happy to report the Naim delivers a surprisingly cohesive and insightful performance.

”Once up and running the NAC-N 272 turns out to be a superb performer regardless of source” 69




1 Mains power supply is generously specified and delivers a clean, low-noise feed to the 272’s circuitry. Despite this, Naim offers a range of external power supplies which will lit performance to even higher levels.


2 Unusually for a digitally based product, the 272 has a wholly analogue preamp section. This is because Naim feels such circuit designs sound better.


3 The cable ties are not simply there to make the wiring look tidy, they are also precisely positioned to optimise sound quality following extensive listening tests by Naim engineers.

Listening to Jill Scott’s Family Reunion is fun. We like the way this Naim renders the song’s easy-going beat and the presentation’s balance between attack and refinement. There’s little sign of the lack of subtlety and thinness that Bluetooth can still suffer from, and the tonal balance is just that – balanced. While we wouldn’t use this connection for any serious listening it’s great for a casual dip.

Clear-flowing stream We’re familiar with the quality of Naim’s streamers – our reference unit is the company’s range-topping NDS/555PS combo – so it comes as no shock to find the streamer section of the 272 is a good one. It’s a surprisingly talented performer, keeping the balance of Bluetooth but adding sizable chunks of transparency, subtlety and rhythmic precision to the mix. We play a whole range of music, from the complex instrumental weave of Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar right the way through to Kendrick Lamar’s hard-hitting How To Pimp A Butterfly. The Naim delivers across the board. With Interstellar it generates an impressively large-scale presentation. The music’s huge dynamic sweeps are supported by rock-solid bass that has

plenty of authority without sacrificing definition. We love the way the 272 communicates the insistent drive of Coward – it’s determined and surefooted – and that simply reinforces the menace and excitement of the track. The Naim doesn’t deliver the most open or spacious soundstage, but it is nicely focused and crisply layered. Importantly, it stays focused even when the piece becomes demanding. Moving to Kendrick Lamar’s set shows off the 272’s direct delivery. While there’s plenty of insight and subtlety we’re drawn to the highly organised way this unit renders music. Every note and sound has a distinct place and purpose and through the Naim it all makes sense.


Streamer plus preamp


No compromise Digital inputs

Smooth, but with bite It’s this ability to organise, and the stability that goes with it, that makes the 272 such an impressive performer. Rhythmically it’s strong, making the most of hard-driving tracks such as King Kunta. Despite a strong dose of refinement, the 272 has plenty in the way of bite to convey the attitude of the music well. The analogue line stages and built-in DAC are equally impressive, preserving the unit’s sonic character while being revealing enough to show up the sonic

differences between alternate sources. We would happily put the Naim’s preamp section up against any standalone rival in the £1000-£1500 price range without fear. The DAC section would be one of the better performers below the grand mark. The headphone output is as good as the line stages – something that isn’t always the case. It’s a Class A circuit, designed to drive a wide range of headphones well, and it does. We try various products, ranging from BeyerDynamic’s T1s through to Grado’s PS500s, without issue.

Note the multi-pin connector – next to the analogue inputs – for use with Naim’s power supplies

The NAC-N 272 could have easily turned out to be too much of a compromise, a poor relation to the company’s distinguished and long-established line of dedicated separates. It isn’t though. It sounds great, it’s full of life and has the ability to make music, no matter how complex, make sense. Factor in the box-count reduction, lack of extra cabling and the fuss-free way it operates, and this unit looks like something of a bargain (in high-end terms at least). Highly recommended.



VERDICT The NAC-N 272 is a hugely talented unit that delivers top-class sound and has an extensive features list




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TEMPTATIONS Shure KSE1500 | In-ear headphones | £2500

The amplifier pack is beautifully made. It features a retro knurled volume control and leather carrying case

“Unusual electical demands” FOR Exceptional insight and subtlety; surefootedness; build

AGAINST DAC section could be more capable

We’re no strangers to premium-priced gear at What Hi-Fi?, but even we took a collective gasp at the £2500 price tag attached to Shure’s new range-topping in-ear headphones, the KSE1500s. In-ears have a hard time with perceived value at the best of times, but before you write these Shures off as an exorbitant luxury for those with more money than sense, take a closer look.

dedicated amplifier accounts for a sizable chunk of the Shure’s hefty price. The amp pack is beautifully made. It’s solid and feels like a quality item. We particularly like the knurled volume control, and the display is clear, if a little small. There are two inputs – 3.5mm line-level connection and micro-USB. There’s also a digital-to-analogue converter on board, capable of accepting PCM signals up to 24-bit/96kHz (but not, sadly, 24-bit/192kHz or DSD). Delve into the menus and you’ll find equaliser functions. There are presets to boost bass and cut highs, even one to de-emphasise sibilance. There’s also the provision for fine-tuning these settings.

A technological first The KSE1500s use electrostatic drivers. It’s the first time we’ve reviewed in-ears with this technology, and it gets us thinking that these headphones might be worth taking seriously. Electrostatic technology is rare, and for good reason. It involves a very light diaphragm loaded with static charge placed between two metal grids. As the music signal is fed to these grids, they vary in polarity accordingly, so causing the diaphragm to move. This movement is translated into sound. It may appear simple, but it’s difficult to engineer properly due to the high voltages involved. It took Shure eight years of development to get the KSE1500s to market. Why go to all this trouble? Because distortion levels are tiny and the signal response is fast, so a well-engineered electrostatic design will give you a more detailed and accurate sound than conventional alternatives, all other things being equal (which they usually aren’t). You do, however, need a dedicated amplifier. The unusual electrical demands of electrostatics mean normal headphone amplifiers just won’t work directly into the headphones. This 72

Suspend your judgement We find these comfortable to wear. As with all in-ears it’s vital you find the right tips, and Shure provides a generous spread of sizes and shapes to provide the best seal. The leads also loop around the ears for additional security. Shure claims 37dB of noise isolation, and that rings true as we walk through our busy office or out onto a noisy high street. If you’re expecting to be blown away by the sound the KSE1500 makes then you’ll be disappointed, initially at least. These in-ears major on accuracy and detail resolution rather than impressing through lots of bass or emphasising punch. Our first reaction when putting them on is that they sound a little understated, but that impression soon changes as we discover just how insightful and well balanced they are. They’re wonderfully clean and clear without sounding either bright or forward. Their tonal balance is spot on,

★★★★★ in fact, and the transition from deep bass to the highest treble utterly seamless. Electrostatic technology’s inherent lack of distortion also makes them easy to listen to over long periods. Transparency is of the highest order. They reveal the natural warmth in the beautifully recorded Mount The Air by The Unthanks with ease. The lovely vocals come through with immense subtlety. There’s no shortage of nuance – these headphones deliver each change of intensity and emphasis with considerable skill. They communicate the dynamic ebb and flow superbly too.

KEY FEATURES + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Electrostatic drivers

Dedicated amplifier

Sound isolating

Texture and organisation Move to Kendrick Lamar’s King Kunta and the Shures respond with wonderfully textured bass and an enviable ability to organise, even when the music is busy. All that insight is great, but it does mean that these won’t hide the flaws in the rest of your set-up. Use Spotify, for example, and you’ll find the results thin, hard-edged and lacking in subtlety. All this is through the line-level input – the DAC section isn’t as good, sounding thinner and less subtle. While these in-ears will work with phones and portables, you’ll really hear what they’re capable of only with top-end hi-fi sources. That’s the dichotomy of the KSE1500s: they’re meant for travelling, but the only way you’ll hear them at their best is with talented home gear. Is there still a place for them? We think so, simply because they’re so good. Calling these the best in-ears we’ve heard is selling them short. They’re among the finest headphones around, regardless of price or type.




VERDICT The finest in-ears we’ve heard and arguably some of the best headphones of any sort that money can buy 73

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New DragonFlys! £89 Black & £169 Red Powerful, Immersive Sound from Computers and Mobile Devices! Four years ago, AudioQuest shook the hi-i world with our irst DragonFly DAC–Preamp–Headphone Amp—the rare audio product that brought more compelling sound to all music lovers, playing high-res iles to MP3s on perfectionist systems and modest laptops. Now, the new DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red exceed their predecessor in every way, delivering more beautiful music, boasting software upgradability, and providing compatibility with Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. While Black ofers more clarity, depth and category-deining value than ever before, the take-no-prisoners Red provides even more inesse, resolution, torque and more than enough power to drive even the most demanding headphones. The word is out:’s John Darko calls DragonFly Red and Black “the inest examples of everyman hii to ever grace these pages. Their value quotients explode the dial.” Let the joyful experience begin!

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NOW WITH THE BEST BUYS IN EVERY CATEGORY Kobina Monney, Buyer’s Guide Editor

This is the definitive guide to the best home entertainment kit you can buy. From 75in TVs to smartphones, from portable Bluetooth speakers to Dolby Atmos surround-sound packages, here’s where you’ll find the perfect product, fast. NEW ENTRIES This month Sky overhauls its TV package with its Sky Q service, Yamaha’s premium RX-A3060 AV receiver is a master of home cinema d KG’ h d ones offer great price. Yamaha RX-A3060 “The RX-A3060 is a seriously talented AV receiver with a premium price and the



































































AKG K92 “If you want a great-sounding, comfortable pair of cans to hook up to your laptop or hi-fi, the K92s will suit you perfectly”

watching V and allowing you to access them all over your home” 77



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BEST BUYS The only products worth considering


Stereo amps up to £500

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


£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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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



AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED Rogue Audio Cronos Magnum II £2495


October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Though it has a villainous name, its performance is heroic. This valve amp has a robust and refined sound to match its attractive looks. Power 100W Inputs 3 line-in, MM Outputs Speaker, h’phone, preamp

October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£1000 to £3000

Roksan Caspian M2 £1900

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

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

£3000 and above

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

GamuT D3i £6150 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

January 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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 up to £10,000

Cyrus Mono X300 Signature £2750 October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 85

Power amps 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

Atlas 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


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 AWARD WINNER

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


£1000 to £1500

Best CD player £500+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Cyrus says this player is its best-sounding yet, and ater 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 86


Roksan K3 CD Di £1300 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

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

£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

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

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

£2000 to £10,000

The K-05 is a hety, 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

Metronome Le Player £5490 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

Burmester 089 £13,320 £10,000 and above

January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


Arcam miniBlink £90


Best Bluetooth receiver, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Audioquest DragonFly Black v1.5 £90

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 25 x 30 x 40mm

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Cheaper, and with improved sound and compatibility, this is arguably the best DragonFly yet. The 96kHz playback limit is a disappointment though. Inputs USB Size 60 x 20 x 10mm Resolution Up to 24-bit/96kHz 87

Up to £200

DACS CONTINUED Audioquest DragonFly Red £170 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The more-expensive alternative to the DragonFly Black, this is a marked improvement over the original, sounding more sophisticated and subtler. Inputs USB Size 60 x 20 x 10mm Resolution Up to 24-bit/96kHz

Chord Mojo £400


£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 20 x 60 x 80mm Res 32-768kHz/DSD 512

Oppo HA-2 £250


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

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 160 x 70 x 10mm Res to 384kHz, 16/24/32-bit

Audiolab M-DAC £600 £500 to £1000

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

Audiolab M-DAC+ £800 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Audiolab’s follow up to the M-DAC gets a great deal right with a sound that’s neat, tidy and expansive. The M-DAC+ demands your attention. Inputs 2 x coax, 2 x opt Size 11 x 25 x 29cm Res Up to 32-bit/384kHz

Chord 2Qute £1000


Best DAC £800-£1200, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£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 Best DAC £1200+, Awards 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 £1350 February 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Chord DAVE £7995 £2000 and above

August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The uniquely named DAVE costs a lot but we’d argue it’s the best DAC money can buy. Build quality is excellent and the sound is very special. Inputs 4 x coax, 2 x opt, XLR Size 6 x 34 x 15cm Res Up to 768kHz

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



DACS CONTINUED £2000 and above

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


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

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 Chromecast Audio £30 January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


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

Pioneer N-50A £500


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


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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


£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 89

MUSIC STREAMERS CONTINUED Burmester Musiccenter 151 £12,500 £10,000 and above

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

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



Up to £200

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

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


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


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

Revo SuperSignal £180 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A stylish radio with plenty of features, it’s even more impressive on the audio front thanks to a large-scale sound that belies its appearance. Battery No Size (hwd) 21 x 14 x 14cm Inputs 3.5mm, AUX in, Bl’tooth

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


Eclipse TD-M1 £800 August 2014 ★★★★

Desktop speakers

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 AWARD WINNER

KEF Egg £350 Best desktop speaker £200+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

Tannoy Eclipse Three £300 June 2016 ★★★★★

A speaker that’s easy to set up and partner, this is the most talented budget floorstander we’ve heard in years. Size (hwd) 96 x 27 x 29cm Bi-wire No Finishes 1


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

“The Threes turn in a musically engaging performance that compares to the best at this price”

Floorstanders up to £1000

Q Acoustics 3050 £500

B&W 683 S2 £1150 October 2014 ★★★★★

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

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”

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

£1000 to £2000

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 91

£1000 to £2000

STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Tannoy Revolution XT 8F £1300 “Give them a larger room to play in and the XT8Fs will shine”

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

Eclipse TD 510Z Mk2 £3840

“They do things that no conventional rival can match”

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

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

February 2014 ★★★★★

£2000 to £5000

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 ★★★★★

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”

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

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 £5000 and above

July 2015 ★★★★★

A hety 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 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 98

“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”

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

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

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

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

Tannoy Kensington GR £9950

£5000 and above

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

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

August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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 AWARD WINNER

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

For their size, these Monitor Audio Bronze 2 dig deep in the bass. They’re tonally balanced and impressively detailed too. Size (hwd) 35 x 19 x 26cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

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

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


Standmounters 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

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The M10s offer a layered, intricate and versatile sound that we can’t believe costs only £500. A confident return to form for Dynaudio. Size (hwd) 29 x 17 x 24cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2

£500 to £1000

Dynaudio Emit M10 £500 99

STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Dynaudio Emit M20 £600 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


£500 to £1000

Another pair of entertaining standmounters from Dynaudio, the M20s marry sweeping dynamics with bags of insight to stunning effect. Size (hwd) 36 x 22 x 27cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2

Dynaudio Xeo 2 £995


September 2016 ★★★★★

A pair of hi-fi speakers that are much more than they appear. Bluetooth, hi-res support and a versatile sound make this a formidable package. Size (hwd) 26 x 17 x 15cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2

Quad S-1 £500 July 2016 ★★★★★

They’re only little, but the S-1s are smooth, intimate and insightful – especially in the midrange – as well as being a sight for sore eyes. Size (hwd) 29 x 16 x 24cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2

ATC SCM11 (2013) £1200


Best standmounter £800-£1200, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

£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 ★★★★★

£1500 to £2000

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

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


£2000 and above

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

PMC Twenty5.22 £2495 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

PMC turns 25 in great style with the Twenty5.22s. Demonstrating fine clarity, speed and enthusiasm, they are superb speakers for the price. Size (hwd) 41 x 19 x 37cm Bi-wire No Finishes 4 100


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Roksan Darius S1 £5000 December 2014 ★★★★★

£2000 and above

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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



Sonos System From £175 Best multi-room system under £500, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

Bluesound Generation 2 From £540


If you don’t need hi-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 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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

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

Cambridge Audio Minx Xi £400 Best music system £400-£800, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

Denon D-M40DAB £350

Stereo systems up to £500

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

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

£500 and above

Arcam Solo Music £1500 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Swiss Army Knife of hi-fi/home cinema systems, the 3rd gen Solo is a well featured, fine-sounding product. It’s the benchmark at this price. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, CD, DAB/DAB+/FM

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 101

SYSTEMS CONTINUED Moon Neo Ace £2500 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


£500 and above

The Ace has all you’d ever need from a piece of modern hi-fi, a versatile all-in-one system that puts music enjoyment at the top of its list. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, aptX Bluetooth

Onkyo TX-8150 £550 April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 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


Audio Technica AT-LP5 £300 June 2016 ★★★★★

Up to £500

A pleasure to use and listen to, the LP5 boasts both ease of use and the added bonus of a USB ouput. At this price there’s none better. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 16 x 45 x 35cm

Pro-Ject Essential II £210


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 Planar 1 £250 September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The modifications Rega has made to the Planar 1 haven’t hindered the fantastic sound. It’s an entertaining turntable with no obvious flaws. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm



TURNTABLES CONTINUED Rega Planar 2 £375 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £500

Forty years old and still going strong, the Planar 2 is a big leap up from the RP1, but also offers great sound at a competitive price. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm

Sony PS-HX500 £450 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A turntable with the ability to rip vinyl into hi-res files, but it’s also an entertaining deck with a big, open sound. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 11 x 43 x 36cm AWARD WINNER

Clearaudio Concept £995 Best turntable £800+, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

£500 to £1000

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

Rega Planar 3/Elys 2 £625 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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£1000 and above

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 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

VPI Prime £3750 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

Return of an icon! MIRACORD 90 ANNIVERSARY

The ELAC Miracord remains an iconic name from the era of the long-playing disc. Miracord 90 Anniversary - ELAC revisits a golden era with a turntable to mark its 90th birthday. 103


JBL Flip 3 £100 May 2016 ★★★★★

Up to £150

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 2 £80 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Roll 2 has a sound that’s more open, more dynamic and goes louder than its predecessor. The drop in price makes this a bargain. Size (hw) 4 x 14cm Battery Yes, up to 9 hrs playback

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 14cm Battery Yes, up to 30 hrs (at half volume)

Bluesound Pulse Flex £270


September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s not cheap but the price is justified by the stonking performance on offer. It has a big, open, enthusiastic sound that’s impressive for its size. Size (hwd) 18 x 13 x 10cm Battery No

JBL Xtreme £250 £150 to £300

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

Harman Kardon Go + Play £250


October 2016 ★★★★★

It’s big but the Go + Play is an energetic performer with a warm, open sound and lots of bass. The lack of wi-fi and aptX is disappointing. Size (hwd) 21 x 42 x 18cm Battery Yes, up to 8 hrs playback

Monitor Audio Airstream S150 £150 Best mains-powered wireless speaker under £200, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

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 104


WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED 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

Geneva Model S Wireless DAB+ £330


Best mains-powered wireless speaker £200-£600, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£300 to £500

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

KEF Muo £300


Best portable wireless speaker £200, Awards 2015 ★★★★

The Muo brings a touch of luxury with its detailed musical performance and great looks. You won’t get better without going mains-powered. Size (hwd) 8 x 21 x 6cm Battery Yes, up to 12 hrs playback

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

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

Sonos Play:5 £350 December 2015 ★★★★★

Rich bass response, great detail and crystal-clear midrange 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

Bluesound Pulse 2 £600 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A speaker with a big and bold character, this has a rich and engaging sound that will fill the biggest rooms. A big step in the right direction. Size (hwd) 20 x 42 x 19cm Battery No

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

£500 and above

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 Zeppelin Wireless £500 December 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


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 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 has now been updated to accommodate Tidal. Size (hwd) 12 x 63 x 26cm Battery No 106



BEST BUYS The only products worth considering


Panasonic DMP-BDT170 £90 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

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

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


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

September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Another fantastic budget Blu-ray player that boasts excellent picture quality and good features, but the 4K upscaling is a little unconvincing. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD

£100 to £300


Sony BDP-S6700 £140


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

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

Sony UHP-H1 £400 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£300 to £800

A Blu-ray player in name only, this one-box offering is one of the most talented multimedia players we’ve seen around this price. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD

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

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

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 107

£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, this is top class. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD


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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 that belies its price. Power 5 x 70W Dolby Atmos No HDMI in/out 4/1

Denon AVR-X2300W £500 £500 to £1000

August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Better than the stunning AVR-X2200W; the sound has been refined, it’s very easy to use and has plenty of features, all for the same price. Power 7 x 150W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 8/2

Yamaha RX-V581 £600


September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Yamaha’s latest AV amp is a beast. Not literally of course, but it packs in lots of useful features along with a muscular, exciting sound. Power 7 x 80W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 4/1

Pioneer SC-LX59 £1400


£1000 and above

Best home cinema amplifier £1000+, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

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

Yamaha RX-A3060 £2000 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


A premium receiver with breathtaking dynamics and a powerful, controlled sound. It’s pricey but the performance reflects that. Power 9 x 150W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 8/2

PROJECTORS Up to £1000


BenQ W1080ST+ £850


Best projector under £1000, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


PROJECTORS CONTINUED BenQ W3000 £1200 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A fine alternative to a TV, 4K is off the menu but you do get a big picture, accurate colours and useful features for a modest enough price. Throw ratio 1.15-1.86 Inputs 2 x HDMI, PC, component Speakers Yes

£1000 and above

Sony VPL-HW65ES £2800 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A Full HD projector for nearly £3000 is a lot, but the immersive, rich image and strong contrast mean the lack of 4K is (slightly) forgivable. Throw ratio n/a Inputs 2 x HDMI, ethernet Speakers No

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 the hety pricetag. Throw ratio n/a Inputs HDMI, LAN Speakers No


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

This YouView recorder is still one of the best ways to handle live TV. 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 PVRs

March 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

BT Ultra HD YouView min £15/month + fees November 2015 ★★★★

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

Sky Q 2TB from £44/month + fees


Sky+HD 2TB free or £250


October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sky has overhauled its TV package with Q and made it more enticing, versatile and contemporary, but it does come with a high price tag. Tuners 4 Storage 2TB Ultra HD Yes 109


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


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 AWARD WINNER

Dali Kubik One £800 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 NEW ENTRY

Yamaha YSP-2700 £800 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

With a spacious, involving sound the YSP-2700 is the most convincing surround experience you’ll get outside of a full 5.1 surround system. Size (hwd) 5 x 94 x 15cm Inputs 3 x HDMI, opt, coax Subwoofer Yes


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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 and above

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

Geneva Model Cinema £550 June 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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




Philips Fidelio XS1 £500 April 2016 ★★★★

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


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 AWARD WINNER

Tannoy HTS-101 XP £600 Best style package under £1000, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

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

B&W MT-50 £1100 Best style package £1000+, Awards 2015 ★★★★★

£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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

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

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

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

Monitor Audio Bronze B5 AV £1500 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

Traditional packages up to £2000

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


“This may be the easiest £1500 you’ll ever spend” 111

SPEAKER PACKAGES CONTINUED B&W 683 S2 Theatre £2750 “It packs a good deal of punch and a pleasing sense of scale”

November 2014 ★★★★

Traditional packages £2000 and above

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

KEF R100 5.1 £2850 Best traditional package £2000+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


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

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“No doubt worth every penny of its asking price”

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

PMC Twenty 23 5.1 £8240

“Stick with the PMCs and you’ll be rewarded with an incredible surround-sound experience”

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

One of our favourite floorstanders features in a speaker package that delivers a captivating performance. So good it’s our reference system. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 17 x 52 x 31cm Finishes 1


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 February 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 ★★★★★

£150 and above

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

PlayStation 4 (500GB) £300 February 2014 ★★★★

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




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

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


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

Up to 40in

Samsung UE32J6300 £380 March 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Panasonic TX-40CS520 £380 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

Panasonic TX-40CX680B £700 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


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

40in to 50in

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

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 Freeview/Freesat HD

Samsung UE48J6300 £650


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 113

40in to 50in

TELEVISIONS CONTINUED Samsung UE48JU7000 £1250 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 Freeview/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 September 2015 ★★★★★

50in to 60in

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 Freeview/Freesat HD

Samsung UE55KS7000 £1500 July 2016 ★★★★★

Samsung has built on last year’s momentum with a spectacular TV. It’s sharp and clear and renders images in a remarkably subtle way. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD

Samsung UE55KS9000 £2000 Reviewed online ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Offers a superb picture for a competitive price. The edge-lit backlight causes a few issues but not enough to take the shine off this great TV. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD

Sony KD-55XD9405 £2000 June 2016 ★★★★★

The presence of HDR significantly improves the image on this set, which offers a level of subtlety that leaves others trailing in its wake. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD

LG OLED65E6V £5000


September 2016 ★★★★★

60in and above

LG has been pushing OLED panels and this may well be its masterpiece. The picture is gorgeous and its slick WebOS continues to improve. Type OLED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD

Samsung UE65KS9000 £2900


October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Samsung’s SUHD range continues to thrive – despite OLED’s emergence – with a TV that has a sharp picture, realistic colours and an improved OS. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD

Sony KD-75XD9405 £5000 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sony’s flagship sets a marker for others to follow by going all out to maximize compatibility and picture performance. As good as it gets. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD

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 114


BEST BUYS The only products worth considering



September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The C stands for compatibility but could stand for consistency too. Five years in and these in-ears are as good as they’ve ever been. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.2m

Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi £90

In-ears up to £50

SoundMagic E10C £40


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

£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

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

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 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

£100 to £500

Klipsch X11i £200 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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Shure SE846 £950 June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 and above

You might think £600 is a lot to spend on a pair of buds, but don’t make up your mind until you’ve heard these 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 115

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AKG N60 NC £230 Noise-cancelling headphones

Best noise-cancelling headphones under £250, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 35 £290 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The latest QuietComfort benefits from being truly wireless and switching to rechargeable batteries. The best just got better. Quoted battery life 20 hours (wireless), 40 hours (wired)

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

AKG K451 £50 October 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

On-ears up to £100

Great agility and precision timing, combined with excellent build and compact size, make the K451s a must-audition pair of cans. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 120g NEW ENTRY

AKG K92 £50 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

They look a little blingy but the K92s’ smooth, detailed sound and excellent build quality make them one of 2016s best-value headphones. Type Closed Connection 3.5/6.3mm Weight 200g

AKG Y50 £50


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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£100 to £200

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

Grado SR125e £150 December 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

These might look suited to the ears of a wartime radio operator, but they sound great. Best used in the home, though: they’re very leaky. Type Open Connection 3.5mm/6.5mm Weight 363g

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

£200 to £300

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

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


HEADPHONES CONTINUED 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

Grado SR325e £270


Best home on-ears £150-£300, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£200 to £300

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

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

We love the design, but it’s more than just pretty – these Momentums are comfortable on your ears and fold away neatly when not in use. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 240g

B&W P7 £330 September 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


£300 to £500

These B&Ws are worth every penny. The solid build quality and comfy fit we expect, but the level of detail and dynamics sweep 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

AKG K812 £1100 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

Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z £600


September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Beyerdynamic T1 Generation 2 £800 August 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 and above

The 11th version of the W1000z opts for evolution over revolution and with a spacious sound that packs power and punch, it’s a good choice. Type Closed Connection 6.3mm Weight 320g

Six years on and a few refinements later, the T1s are just as stunning. These ‘phones are insightful, comfortable to wear and a joy to listen to. Type Semi-open Connection 3.5mm/6.3mm Weight 360g

Sennheiser HD800S £1200 June 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If the price invites doubts, rest assured the performance is absolutely worth it, provided your source and amplification are up to the job. Type Open Connection 6.3mm Weight 330g 119

HEADPHONES CONTINUED Wireless up to £200

AKG Y50BT £150


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

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 AWARD WINNER

B&W P5 Wireless £330 £200 and above

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


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

Take the Momentum 2.0, add aptX Bluetooth and active noise cancellation and – voilà. You have these very desirable ‘phones. Folding No Quoted battery life 22hrs Wireless range 10m


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 ★★★★

Likeable 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


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

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

Sony NW-ZX100HN £500 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 120

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

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

“An affordable player with a touch of premium quality”

PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS CONTINUED Acoustic Research M2 £900 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

Sony NW-ZX2 £950 September 2015 ★★★★

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

This second-generation 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

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

June 2014 ★★★★


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

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

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

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

LG G5 (with Hi-Fi Plus DAC)

“LG G5 with Hi-Fi Plus by B&O Play may be a mouthful, but it is the complete package”

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

LG combines innovation and performance to produce a phone that’s up there with the best. The modular components are a brilliant idea. OS Android Size (hwd) 149 x 74 x 8mm Storage 32GB & microSD

HTC 10 HTC rebounds with a superb effort that really nails the core functionality of a smartphone and excels in the audio and video departments. OS Android Size (hwd) 146 x 72 x 3mm – Storage 32/64GB/microSD

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S7 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A lesson in how to make a great phone even better. With microSD support, a superb screen and good design, there’s little to moan about. OS Android Size (hwd) 142 x 70 x 8mm Storage 32GB & microSD


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

Over 5in

“HTC has focused on the core functionality and we think it has got the focus absolutely spot on”

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Under 5in

Apple iPhone 6S

“Samsung’s made careful tweaks to an already great phone, making it one of the best you can buy”

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” 121


BBC iPlayer Free


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

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 Video £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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Without doubt one of the most satisfying streaming services, it 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



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

Music apps

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

Tidal from £10/month 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


Under 8in


Apple iPad mini 4 from £320 Best tablet under 8in, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Apple iPad Air 2 from £400 Best tablet 8in+, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The iPad Air 2 ticks all the boxes: best-bar-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 (9.7in) from £499 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Fits all the things we like about the bigger Pro in a smaller form. This smaller screen incarnation is a seriously tempting proposition. OS iOS Size (hwd) 240 x 170 x 6mm Storage 32/128/256GB

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)

Netflix perfect picks

Stranger Things

Narcos Series 2

The Getdown

Netflix’s latest sensation is a throwback to the ’80s, a mix of Stephen King horror and Steven Spielberg mystery. It leans on the pull of nostalgia a bit too much but it is nevertheless a fun ride.

The second series of Narcos may not be as good as the first, but it’s still a slick and compelling watch, with a fantastic central performance from Wagner Moura as drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Buz Lurhman brings his trademark sense of kinetic energy to this story about the formation of modern hip-hop. It can feel overdone and lacks subtlety, but when the music hits it grabs you and doesn’t let go. 123


BEST BUYS The only products worth considering


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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 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 with a reassuring build quality, and one that is capable of expressing the dynamics and nuances of a track. Balanced/Single Single

AV & HI-FI RACKS Up to £500


Atacama Eris Eco 5.0 £460 “A great-performing, well-built and well-priced kit rack”

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

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

£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 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 124


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

AV & HIFI RACKS CONTINUED 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

“The Podium XL comes across as a well-made piece of furniture”

£800 and above

Hi-Fi Racks Podium XL £1050


Audio Technica AT-HA5050H £4500 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A headphone amp whose design harks back to the 1970s, this unit has a spellbinding sound that will leave you captivated. Outputs headphone x2 Inputs coaxial digital, XLR, RCA, USB

Up to £5000

Meridian Prime £1200 February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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


Olson Sound Fantastic HF6 £135 September 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

CS947 Great value Mains Conditioner!  Mains Conditioning  Screened Mains Lead

CS947, Sept 2015

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

Available instore or online



Up to £200

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

Audioquest Jitterbug £40 April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It might look insubstantial, but 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



Why you need YellO Power

Fitted with Russ Andrews 13A fuse

Flexible braided protective sheathing

made with High purity copper insulated with PVC Unique woven cable design effectively removes mains interference

If you’ve yet to upgrade any of the power cables to your system, fitting a YellO Power is the perfect place to start. YellO Power will work well on any Hi-Fi separate component along with TV screens and Home Cinema components.

High performance IEC


ACT NOW! Buy your yellOPower

cable today at russandrews com/yello or call us on 01539 797300 ™

Mail Order Direct • 60 Day Money Back Guarantee



High performance UK 13A mains plug

YellO Power is a no-nonsense version of our award-winning PowerKords. It uses the same unique RF-blocking Kimber weave but with PVC insulation rather than fluorocarbon.

Great value at only £60 (1m)


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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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Rega Fono MM Mk2 £200

£1000 and above

£200 to £1000

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

Rega Aria £800 December 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A phono stage of rare quality for under £1000, the Rega Aria performs superbly – as long as the rest of your system is suitably talented. Type MM, MC Dimensions (hwd) 8 x 22 x 32cm

Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2 £1900 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



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

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

QED Ruby Anniversary Evolution £6/m Up to £10/m

March 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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 128



Best speaker cable, Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£10/m and above

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


Atacama Duo 6 £65 February 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Atacama Moseco 6 £120 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


“The Mosecos may just be our new favourite affordable speaker stands”

Up to £200

“Really good at letting a system to do its job properly”

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 129

SPEAKER STANDS CONTINUED Custom Design SQ 400 £100 Up to £200

February 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Excellent stands that will permit your kit to perform at its best, the SQ 400s allow speakers to sound livelier, clearer and more detailed. Top plate size (hwd) 220 x 260 x 3mm Height 61cm Fillable Yes

Hi-Fi Racks Podium Slimline £120 September 2013 ★★★★

A stylish offering, these are affordable stands that will make your kit sound easy-going and pleasant, if not the most attacking. Top plate size (hwd) n/a Height 50 to 70cm Fillable No

Soundstyle Z2 £70 November 2008 ★★★★★

£200 and above

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 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


“Performance-wise we’re very happy. Our speaker sounded full of life, detail and clarity.”

“We like the warm, full-bodied and gentle sound that these slim wooden stands bring out”

“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”



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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 Staff writers Andrew Murphy, Becky Roberts, Adam Smith 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

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Music maestros please Anything that forces us to put “zilch” in the ‘Against’ column has to be special. And that’s what Marantz’s CD-63 was – even photographing it snuggled up to a red pepper couldn’t hide that… It wasn’t the first great CD player Marantz had made – the company had already cemented its place as the finest manufacturer of affordable players on the market. Indeed, it then seemed capable of resetting performance standards at affordable levels more or less at will. The CD-63 followed in the footsteps of the legendary CD-52, and stomped all over it. At a cheaper price.

Electronic magic dust This player also solidified the brand’s reputation as expert tweakers. The company’s engineers could take a good standard product and turn it


into a superstar with a sprinkling of electronic magic dust. Things such as upgraded capacitors, revised power supplies and improved casework – down to the types of screws and feet used – may seem minor, but they gave enough incremental improvements to lift performance significantly.

SUBSCRIPTIONS 0344 848 8813 email: What Hi-Fi? (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.

The next generation to fly the flag The arrival of the CD6006 shows Marantz has lost none of its touch in the intervening decades. The new player doesn’t appear have changed much from its Award-winning predecessor, but it’s still a class leader – as you’ll read on p26. The world of hi-fi may have may have changed significantly over the years but it’s nice to know Marantz’s ability with disc players remains intact.

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