102 AWARD WINNERS IN 27 CATEGORIES
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STEREO SPEAKERS ● TURNTABLES ● SMARTPHONES ● HEADPHONES ● STREAMING SERVICES ● TELEVISIONS ●
Awards 2016 £4.99 www.whathifi.com
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Introducing The New M3 Soundbar. Simplicity redefined, where beautifully engineered sound meets beautiful design. M3 is an elegant, compact soundbar, designed to bring life to your living room without the clutter of a full Hi-Fi system. Thanks to its built-in subwoofer, Intelligent Pre-Amplifier (IPA™) and Bluetooth® aptX® wireless capability, the M3 will fill your home with superbly detailed and dynamic audio reproduction. Find Out When The M3 Lands qacoustics.co.uk/m3
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They can have it. You can have it. I can have it too. Simon Lucas, editor
FIFA has the Ballon d’Or. The movie and TV folks have the BAFTAs. The hi-fi and home entertainment industry has the What Hi-Fi? Awards. Every year for the past 33 years, the editorial staff of this magazine have discussed, contended, argued and debated about the year’s best products. Where does the real value-for-money lie? How best to spend a specific budget on a particular type of product? Can we agree on what’s a great product and what’s merely very very good? This year’s mature discussions/endless deliberations/occasionally heated arguments about just what constitues an Award-worthy product concluded in two ways. Yesterday, with a glamorous do attended by glamorous people on London’s glamorous Park Lane. And today, with the publication of the definitive list of the very best hi-fi and home entertainment products you can buy (p32). So if you’re reluctant to part with your cash until a product’s won the ultimate accolade, the time to get your credit-card out is almost upon you.
My product of the year AKG N40 (p44) I quite like the way they look, I really like the way they fit and I flat-out love the way they sound. It’s a lot of money for a pair of in-ear headphones, no doubt, but in this instance I’m in no doubt the N40s are worth every penny.
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 Headphones – when only a Lighning connector will do How to choose the right stereo speakers 49in of 4K TV for just £500 December 2016 issue ON SALE 16th November
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CONTENTS Our products of the year...
Dynaudio Xeo 2 These powered speakers are a top way of getting a simple hi-fi system to sound brilliant. Becky Roberts
Audio Technica AT-LP5 A turntable for the 21st century: it sounds great, and it can turn your tunes digital. Andrew Murphy
Chord DAVE Almost the best value-formoney DAC. And it costs £8k so that’s some compliment. Ketan Bharadia
Panasonic DMP-UB900 A stunning way of getting the very best 4K picture you could dream of seeing. Verity Burns
B&W P7 Wireless The range-toppers in B&W’s P series of headphones, these are simply sublime. Adam Smith
“Tannoy’s Eclipse Threes compare with the best standmounters at this price” Page 103
AWARDS 2016 AWARDS OPENER TURNTABLES STREAMERS IN-EAR HEADPHONES SOUNDBARS & SOUNDBASES PROJECTORS RADIOS SMARTPHONES HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS DACS MULTI-ROOM SYSTEMS BLU-RAY PLAYERS TELEVISIONS SPEAKER PACKAGES ON-EAR HEADPHONES STEREO AMPLIFIERS PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS STREAMING SERVICES ACCESSORIES CD PLAYERS WIRELESS SPEAKERS TABLETS SET-TOP BOXES SYSTEMS WIRELESS HEADPHONES TEMPTATIONS STEREO SPEAKERS READERS’ AWARD
32 34 38 42 46 48 52 55 56 60 64 66 68 72 75 79 82 83 84 86 88 92 92 94 96 99 100 108
FIRST TESTS APPLE iPHONE 7 LIGHTNING vs 3.5MM YAMAHA RX-A1060 OPPO HA-2 SE XBOX ONE S AKG N40 MARANTZ PM6006 WHARFEDALE DIAMOND ACTIVE A1 SONY VPL-HW45ES Q ACOUSTICS M3 AUDEZE SINE PMC TWENTY5.23
Audioquest DragonFly This brilliant little DAC is an easy way to make your digital music sound more exciting. Kashfia Kabir
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OUR VERDICTS ON EVERY PRODUCT WORTH OWNING, P113 www.whathifi.com 5
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ICTS ON THE LATEST KIT
Apple iPhone 7 | Smartphone | From £600 (32GB)
“This is Apple’s most controversial move yet” FOR Fast performance; vibrant colours; refined sound
AGAINST No headphone jack; average EarPods; battery life
Apple has a reputation for deciding it knows best. It led the way in ridding the world of floppy drives, made laptops skinnier by losing the optical drive and turned the internet on its head with its refusal to support Flash on mobile devices. The lack of headphone jack on the iPhone 7 is perhaps Apple’s most controversial move to date. All the talk has been about what it doesn’t have, rather than what it has. And that’s a shame, because what it does have is very impressive indeed.
Of course, there’s no headphone jack, but the other big change is that the home button is no longer a button. Instead it has been replaced by a solid pressure-sensitive touchpad. Apple has used the same method as on its newest MacBooks, replacing the physical clicking action with a clicking sensation, using vibration. It has improved the iPhone’s Taptic Engine to support this. It feels pretty realistic, more like clicking the whole bottom section of the iPhone rather than pressing a button, but it does the trick. The improved Taptic Engine doesn’t just come into its own on the new home button though – it is used throughout the iPhone 7 to let you know it’s listening. For example, it’ll give you very gentle nudges when you swipe up for Control Centre or down for Notifications, and a multiple selection menu on a website will deliver a Taptic click with every spin. TouchID works faster than ever too, so you’re straight in with just your fingerprint. It all helps to keep the iPhone 7 experience feeling very slick indeed. The new Raise to Wake feature built into iOS10 helps speed things along here too. One thing to note is that Apple has finally made the iPhone 7 water-resistant, managing up to 30 minutes submerged at depths of up to one metre. This is a longoverdue feature, ensuring your phone will never again meet a watery end in the bath.
So, about that missing headphone jack. You now have three ways to listen to your music on an iPhone 7 – using a pair of Lightning-compatible headphones (a pair of Lightning EarPods are included in the box), a pair of 3.5mm headphones with the included adapter, or wireless headphones. The adapter is a bit of an un-Apple-like faff, and the fact you can’t charge the phone while listening to music is a pain, but it’s no more of a dealbreaker than using a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter for more pro headphones. Apple clearly sees the future of audio as wireless but, for now, music sounds better through a physical connection, so we connect the adaptor and start listening.
Winning taptics The iPhone 7 looks similar to the 6S and 6 before it, which is hardly a surprise. And while Apple might not be alone in producing beautiful phones, the slim aluminium unibody is still as slick as ever. It’s only when you look closer that you’ll see the changes. First, there are new colour options. Space Grey is no more – it has been replaced by glossy Jet Black and regular matt Black options, which join the existing silver, gold and rose gold colours. Jet Black is certainly the standout design of this generation, but not only is it a magnet for fingerprints, even Apple has admitted that it’s more susceptible to ‘fine micro-abrasions’ than the matt design. On the back panel, the new camera looks a little different too, boasting a larger lens and positioned a little closer to the edge.
Jack or no jack The headphone jack hasn’t affected Apple’s ability to make a great-sounding phone. It is still the rich, detailed iPhone sound we love. But comparing the sound via the adapter to the direct 3.5mm jack of the iPhone 6S, there are noticeable improvements. We listen to Starboy by The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk, and Apple’s sense of rhythmic timing is tight, the fast-paced bassline clung to with precision beneath the vocal track. Everything sounds a touch more solid too – there’s more confidence in every bass kick and vocals sound more sure of themselves, so you get an authoritative performance that oozes enthusiasm.
“All the talk has been about what the iPhone 7 doesn’t have, rather than what it has. That’s a shame, because what it does have is very impressive” 6 www.whathifi.com
Little has changed in terms of design – the iPhone 7 is an all-round improvement on its predecessor the 6S
The iPhone 7’s camera is still a standout among smartphones. The main camera is 12MP and the selfie camera now 7MP
The adaptor is an un-Apple-like faff, but it’s no more of a deal-breaker than using a 6.3mm adaptor for pro headphones
The new camera looks a little different. Eagle-eyed Apple users will notice a larger lens which is positioned closer to the edge
The home button is now a solid pressuresensitive touchpad, replacing the physical clicking action with a clicking sensation
Lightningenabled EarPods are included, but the fit is still awkward and fails to block outside noise
FIRST TESTS Elsewhere, it’s business as usual. The treble is clear and open, bass is punchy yet controlled, and the midrange is as insightful as ever – if a touch more refined. The 7 is more expressive, handling dynamics a touch better than the 6S and creating a more upfront and exciting sound. The iPhone 7 features stereo speakers for the first time – one along the bottom edge, and one hidden in the earpiece. It’s a more direct and involved sound, and adds more weight and volume, but you’ll still want headphones for a detailed or lengthy listen. As ever, there’s a pair of Apple’s in-ear EarPods included in the box. They've been upgraded with the Lightning connector, but there’s not a lot else new. The one-size-fitsall design still fits no one particularly well and fails to block out much outside noise. The sound hasn’t changed either, but for a pair of bundled headphones it’s passable. They show decent treble quality, so music never sounds harsh or bright. However, the midrange lacks insight, so vocals can sound thick and missing in detail. Bass could be better defined too. Of course, plenty of iPhone users are happy with their EarPods, but we’d suggest an affordable upgrade, such as the SoundMagic E10C (£40, see p43), for a significant improvement in sound.
Apple has improved the sound too. The iPhone 7 is more expressive, upfront and exciting
The bottom of the unit may be a little neaterlooking, but it’s no slimmer than before
Lightning vs 3.5mm Following Apple’s decision to omit the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7, we look at the pros and cons for iPhone users and non-users alike
12MP & 7MP Cameras
From a pure spec perspective, the iPhone 7’s screen hasn’t changed, staying at 4.7in with a 750 x 1334 resolution. On paper, it’s not a patch on the 2K screens on most Android handsets – it’s not even full HD – but its performance really holds its own.
Contrast and compare Pictures might not be as crisp as to the Galaxy Note 7, but there’s not a lot in it. Detail levels are similar too, and plenty good enough for an on-the-go Netflix marathon. The display has seen some tweaks from the iPhone 6S though. It’s a touch warmer, with a 25 per cent brighter screen and a wider colour gamut to allow for more vibrant colours. Colours are still balanced and realistic, skintones a touch warmer and lifelike, and brighter hues pack more punch than before. Contrast is improved too, so blacks are both more detailed and go deeper, while highlights shine with more intensity. Though we’d like Apple to push the regular iPhone up to Full HD, it still competes with screens almost double its resolution. The Galaxy S7 offers over 250ppi more than the
ago, but in the iPhone 7 Apple has finally made a more convincing move. Part of the reason for removing the headphone jack was to accommodate a bigger battery. Apple says it should last for two hours longer than the iPhone 6S, and it takes slightly longer before we’re reaching for a charging cable.
Considered upgrades The iPhone camera still stands out among smartphones. The main camera is still 12MP, but there's now a six-optic lens, optical image stabilisation and a wider f/1.8 aperture, all for better low light shots. In good light, pictures are as sharp as ever, but also brighter, with more detail and a better handling of colour. The selfie camera has had a boost from 5MP to 7MP, and video recording is detailed in either 4K or Full HD. Pictures can be nailed with one snap – autofocus is rapid and HDR mode reliable enough to balance out exposure issues. It might not have the manual controls of its rivals, but it doesn’t really need them. There’s no doubt the iPhone 7 is the company’s most controversial handset to date. Removing the headphone jack is sure
“Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack is sure to upset some Apple users, but the iPhone 7 is better in almost every way – including sound” iPhone 7, yet it’s barely noticeable. That says a lot for Apple’s video-processing skills. Like every iPhone before it, the iPhone 7 features an upgrade to Apple’s own processing chip, the A10 Fusion chip – a quad-core processor combining two high-performance cores and two highefficiency cores. The idea is that splitting different tasks between cores, depending on their demands, will preserve battery life. Apple claims the A10 Fusion offers a 40 per cent more powerful CPU, and 50 per cent better graphics performance than the A9 from the 6S. The only problem is that you wouldn’t know it. It is slicker and more responsive in menu swipes, app loading and multi-tasking, but hardly makes the iPhone 6S look slow. Once developers start making apps that harness the A10 Fusion’s power, the chip should really come into its own. Battery woes have plagued iPhone users since the first handset launched nine years
to upset some users, but this phone is better than the last generation in every way – including its sound. The changes are careful and considered upgrades rather than leaps forward. But with an improved screen, better sound, faster performance and improved camera, it’s hard not to see the iPhone 7 as another success. Maybe Apple does know best.
Rating ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ SCREEN SOUND FEATURES
VERDICT The headphone jack grabs the headlines, but the iPhone 7 improves upon its predecessor – including its sound
BRING BIG AUDIO TO SLIM TVS AND SMARTPHONES, WITH OUR NEW ACTIVE SOUNDBAR Your new slim TV may well deliver ever wider more enveloping pictures, but have you noticed how small it sounds? Size limitations imposed by shrinking TV bezels mean that the speakers within them reproduce only a fraction of the bandwidth available from today’s DTV boxes, games consoles and media players. Our new ASB-10 compact Active Soundbar system is expertly engineered to re-energise HD and UHD pictures with the rich, detailed, immersive sound you’ve been missing. Easily and oh so discreetly, your experience of TV is about to be transformed.
F E AT U R E
Lightning vs 3.5mm connections
Lightning: a bolt from the blue Apple’s decision to remove the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack from its iPhone 7 will have a huge effect on the consumer electronics landscape The 3.5mm headphone connector has been on portable devices since 1964, when it launched on the Sony EFM-117J radio. It enjoyed a huge boost in popularity in 1979, with the release of the Sony Walkman. Ever since then, the 3.5mm jack has featured on almost every portable hi-fi device with headphones or other auxiliary connections. But that changed in September 2016 when, after months of speculation, Apple's decision to remove the 3.5mm jack from its iPhone 7 smartphone was finally confirmed. Apple claimed this would allow a thinner phone – but the iPhone 7 is no thinner than the previous model. In fact, the space taken up by the headphone socket has been used to add a stereo speaker, which delivers better sound when not using headphones.
Why has Apple removed the 3.5mm headphone jack? Apple believed the 3.5mm headphone jack wasn't doing enough to justify its space in the iPhone 7. The loss of the 3.5mm port will mean you will have either to use an
adaptor to connect standard headphones, use headphones that connect via the Apple Lightning port, or connect wirelessly.
Will the Lightning connection mean better sound quality? The Apple Lightning connection already allows you to play hi-res music on your iPhone - but the iPhone can't currently play the source code at full native resolution via the headphone jack. Apple’s internal DAC is a custom-built Cirrus Logic DAC that handles 24-bit/96kHz and, while the company won’t confirm the specifics, Apple’s software limits music coming out of the 3.5mm headphone socket to 24-bit/48kHz. However, if you access the digital output via the Lightning socket, you can receive hi-res audio. Apple's removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 will mean more people using the Lightning connection to listen to music, and that could open the possibility of exploring higher-resolution audio. Wireless earphones, such as the Apple AirPods, are always likely to sound worse
“Apple has a huge influence over the smartphone and portable audio market. Could this mark the beginning of the end for the 3.5mm jack?” than similarly priced wired models, but Lightning headphones, which take digital rather than analogue audio from your device, have the potential to sound better than their analogue counterparts. Apple has a new pair of Lightning EarPods, too.
What are the disadvantages of Apple Lightning headphones?
The 3.5mm jack has ruled hi-fi for half a century. Has Apple just ended its reign?
The most obvious problem with ditching the 3.5mm headphone connection is that your existing headphones won't plug straight into the iPhone 7. Nor will you be able to plug the iPhone 7 straight into your hi-fi system, or anything else, with a simple auxiliary connection. This affects plenty of other hi-fi accessories, too. Apple will provide a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor with every iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, but it doesn't look especially neat. The adaptor will cost £9, when sold separately. No longer can you listen to music while charging your phone via the Lightning cable… it's not possible with one Lightning connection. You will need adaptors or
The Lightning connector looks like the way forward in Apple connectivity wireless headphones to free the Lightning port for charging. Any active noise-cancelling headphones that draw power from the phone could cause problems, too. The iPhone has a decent battery life, but not class-leading.
Does the iPhone 7 come with wireless headphones? Much as the change from 30-pin to Lightning connector paved the way for wireless speakers, a change to the headphone connection could be a boost for wireless headphone manufacturers. The iPhone 7 doesn't come bundled with wireless headphones, but there is a new pair of Apple wireless earphones, the AirPods, that was given plenty of airtime at the Apple launch event. The AirPods are completely wireless, and come with a neat carry case. Already people are concerned about losing the small buds – and about how they look – but we're eager to hear how good they really sound. There are plenty of good Bluetooth headphones on the market already, but we could soon see a lot more – including, potentially, more affordable pairs and perhaps more truly wire-free in-ears.
Can I use my existing high-end headphones with the iPhone 7? But what if you’ve invested a lot of money in a high-end pair of headphones? You will no longer be able to use them with your iPhone via its Lightning connection, unless you use the adaptor or connect via a DAC such as the Chord Mojo. Of course you could get a dedicated hi-res audio player from the likes of Astell & Kern, Pioneer or Sony. Could a surge in dedicated players persuade Apple to release one? Not that we're still mourning the passing of the iPod or anything… Love it or hate it, there’s no ignoring the fact that Apple has a huge influence over the smartphone and portable audio market. Could the iPhone 7 mark the beginning of the end for the 3.5mm headphone jack? We shall see...
Yamaha RX-A1060 | AV receiver | £1100
Yamaha performs a fine balancing act FOR Big, powerful sound; expressive; well equipped
AGAINST Needs care with partnering
Getting an AV amplifier right at any price involves a careful balancing act, a trade-off between things that don’t always seem as though they should naturally go together. Power and subtlety; precision and excitement; features and transparency – often these complete opposites need to become enthusiastic bedfellows if an amp is going to perform to its best, especially when it costs over £1000. After a few years of not quite finding that balance at this price, Yamaha has nailed it with the RX-A1060, a mid-range amp in the premium Aventage range. This means you can expect upgraded circuitry, better build quality and that anti-resonance fifth foot in the middle of the chassis to help reduce unwanted vibrations.
It’s a 7.2-channel amplifier, with support for Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 setups and DTS:X configurations for a more immersive listen. It will deliver a decently powerful 110W per channel too (8 ohms, two channels driven), with a back panel that will more-than cater for the majority of systems. Expect eight HDMI ins, seven of which support HDCP2.2 for 4K playback, three each of coaxial and optical digital inputs, a USB port, 6.3mm headphone jack and more legacy connections than you’ll probably need. On the output side, two HDMI outs give you the option to set up a second zone should you wish. Of course wi-fi, AirPlay, DLNA and Bluetooth are on hand for the majority of your streaming needs (the Yamaha supports 24-bit/192kHz FLAC, WAV and AIFF files plus both single and double speed DSD). Spotify Connect is also featured, and services such as Napster and Qobuz are available via the Yamaha control app. Yamaha’s own MusicCast multi-room system is also on board, which means you
Beeps and blips The flap on its aluminium front panel neatly covers up a decent number of front-mounted controls, giving it a slightly cleaner, more premium look to that of the plastic-fronted RX-V81 Series.
★★ ★ ★ ★ USE IT WITH ATC C1 5.1 package £3250 This 5.1 speaker package is unlikely to be bettered for a long while yet
The RX-A1060 has eight HDMI ins, a USB port and more legacy connections than you will ever need
can share music with other Yamaha products throughout your home, or alternatively transmit via Bluetooth to a non-Yamaha wireless speaker. Set-up is nice and simple using the included YPAO microphone and autocalibration set-up. It’s one of the quickest and most accurate calibrations we know at this level and, after a few beeps and blips, it measures our room and adjusts our speakers accordingly. A quick check of the settings shows they look about right for our room, but it is always worth checking to be sure the calibration has judged your set-up correctly.
“Yamaha is quick to show the big, bold character we’ve come to expect from its amps – a powerful, large-scale sound that easily fills our test room” 12 www.whathifi.com
We play Captain America: The Winter Soldier and skip to one of our favourite scenes: when a few of the Avengers come face to face with the Winter Soldier for the first time. The Yamaha is quick to show the big, bold character we’ve come to expect from its amps. It’s a powerful, large-scale sound that easily fills our test room without second thought, putting real force and authority around the scene’s big explosions, engine-revving car chases and erratic gunfire. It’s a thoroughly exciting performance that's full of attack and drive, with effects pinged effortlessly – yet precisely – around you.
A flap on the front panel covers up some of the controls, giving the RX-A1060 a premium look
8 x HDMI inputs
Atmos 5.1.2 & DTS:X SUPPORT
Playback of up to 24-bit/192kHz and single/double speed DSD
“It is one of the most musical amps we’ve heard at this price – enthusiastic enough to get our toes tapping, with the detail to keep us entertained” It is immediately impressive on a first listen, but what’s great is the RX-A1060 is able to hold your attention after the initial big-sound thrill. There’s a great deal of subtlety to the sound that was missing on its predecessor. Voices are as expressive and nuanced as you’d want them to be, detail spills over across the frequency range and there’s real insight into soundtracks.
Right side of bright This in turn helps it to deliver a dynamically strong performance, able to build sound up as eloquently as it’s able to pull it back down again. This means it’s capable of doing the quiet parts of a soundtrack just as well as it does the loud exciting bits, which for a powerful amp like this isn’t always the case. While its midrange and bass frequencies are superbly judged then, as with last year’s RX-A1040 we do notice a touch of edge in the treble. For this reason, you’ll want to
pair this amp carefully – choose a speaker package that won’t emphasise its slightly bright, more aggressive performance and you’ll find it sits just on the right side of bright for the most part – although any scenes involving a shrill gunshot or big shattering of glass might still unsteady it.
Taming the treble This brightness becomes more of an issue in stereo-music listening, but we find switching to Yamaha’s Pure Direct mode helps soften those edges and tightens up the whole presentation so it sounds more together. But even with these minor reservations, the RX-A1060 is musically strong for an AV receiver, carrying over a great handling of dynamics and detail from its movie performance to put on a good show here too. It means it’s one of the most musical amplifiers we’ve heard at this price – enthusiastic and punchy enough to get
your toes tapping but with enough detail to keep us entertained. The only problem is that, like many AV receivers, it just struggles to compete with a stereo amplifier for out-and-out rhythmic timing. There’s no doubt the RX-A1060 is a return to form for Yamaha at this price. There’s still an edge to the treble that could do with some taming (or decent pairing) for real balance, but it’s managed to address most of the other issues we had with its predecessor. Overall, the A1060 is an amp that wears lots of hats, and yet still wears them all really well. It’s certainly an excellent candidate for your audition list.
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES
VERDICT Yamaha has returned to form at this price, and this powerful but expressive amp is well worth a look
The bottom edge hosts an input selector plus USB and micro USB ins
Oppo HA-2 SE | DAC | £290
Oppo up to its old tricks FOR Impressive features; agile sound; open treble; tight bass
AGAINST Up against some tough competition
★★★ ★ ★★ ★★ ★
Ever fallen for the same practical joke twice? We almost did upon our first viewing of the new Oppo HA-2 SE. As it's nearly identical to the original HA-2, we yet again tried to peel back its stitched leather cover. It looks like it should open like a smartphone case, but sadly it doesn’t.
provides the solid foundations of the HA-2 SE’s presentation, but it’s as if it’s been stretched at both ends. There’s now more expression and openness at the higher and lower frequencies, making the delivery tighter and more precise. Play Destroyer’s Hell and the Oppo’s top end opens up to let the dramatic violins express themselves, with all their scratching and swooning intact. In comparison, they feel a little squashed through the standard HA-2. There’s plenty of texture and dynamic fluctuation to the melody-setting saxophone, and Dan Bejar’s characteristically bold vocals, which go from moodily morose to light and playful, are swathed in feeling throughout. They’re direct too, gushing over the top of the instrumentals with stark clarity and focus. The jazz arrangement is rhythmically sound, the Oppo breezing through the track with energy and crisp timing, revealing its escalating giddiness. With the lower frequencies, this DAC balances depth with suppleness well.
If it ain’t broke... The new ‘special edition’ version is the same pocket-friendly aluminium slab (12mm thick and weighing 175g), with the same neat volume dial in the top corner and battery indicator on the side panel. The only thing you could circle in a spot-thedifference competition is the printed model name on the back, which now fittingly adds the letters ‘SE’. We praised the original HA-2’s portability, compatibility and creative design, giving it an Award as our favourite DAC at less than £400 last year. The decision to keep the same appearance suggests that Oppo’s design team felt hesitant to mess with something that works.
Family resemblance The HA-2 SE’s spec sheet triggers another case of déjà vu. Like the original, it supports PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256. Connectivity is good – there’s a USB type-B input for Android smartphones, PCs and laptops, a USB type-A for Apple products, and a 3.5mm input for everything else that doesn’t have a USB connection. That means you can connect almost any source. The 3000mAh battery takes about 90 minutes to charge and offers around seven hours of listening with digital sources and 13 hours with analogue. It can also top up your smartphone’s juice. Once again, a ‘high gain’ mode – a switch on the right-hand side – means this unit is capable of driving power-hungry headphones. It can be just at home with a
The volume control feels lovely to the touch and works well too
Bass Boost pros and cons
It might look like the original but there are crucial differences inside
KEY FEATURES 32-bit/384kHz
pair of Shure SRH1540 over-ears (£400) as it is with Soundmagic’s E10C in-ears (£40). Any thought that this is essentially the same product as before soon disappears though. Oppo isn’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes by simply adding ‘SE’ to the case and £40 to the asking price. The new iteration uses the new-and-improved ESS Sabre 9028 chip, and a number of component changes are claimed to have reduced the noise floor. This may not sound particularly revolutionary, but it shines through in the performance. Thankfully, the original’s dynamic, articulate and detailed sound still
The tonal balance is pleasingly neutral, although the ‘Bass Boost’ setting gives more emphasis to the low end and more thump to marching drums in Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ Peeling Off The Layers. However, it also takes the limelight off the vocal delivery – so we prefer it off. The HA-2 SE’s only niggling problem is the Audioquest DragonFly Red USB DAC. Not only is it £100 cheaper but it also delivers a slightly subtler, more rhythmically sure-footed sound. The more versatile Oppo has more features though, making it one of the budget DAC market’s most important offerings – and not just its biggest prank puller.
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD
VERDICT Minor adjustments to Oppo's 2015’s Award-winning DAC have made it as pertinent as ever in a burgeoning market
Designed for listening The new CM Series loudspeakers are undoubtedly beautiful, capable of gracing any room with their clean lines and highquality finishes. But as with all Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers form must follow function, and thanks to our Decoupled Double Domes and tweeter-on-top technology you wonâ€™t believe how beautiful your music can sound. bowers-wilkins.com
Decoupled Double Dome tweeter
Microsoft Xbox One S | Games console | from £250
“Just about acceptable…” FOR Price; decent controller; rich colours; good 4K detail
AGAINST Lean sound; no 4K pass-through; unintuitive menu
★★ ★ ★ ★
Microsoft would like to think its Xbox One S is the console equivalent of Terminator 2: a sequel that beats the original. And the initial signs are promising. A new look, a tweaked design and some new features, including 4K video and HDR support – surely it has blockbuster written all over it? When Microsoft announced the Xbox One S would play Ultra HD Blu-rays, you could almost hear the applause. That looks even more significant now Sony has shunned the feature on its PlayStation 4 Pro console. With the 500GB version costing around £250 (we're testing the 2TB version that sells for around £350), the Xbox One S is currently the cheapest 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player on the market by some distance. Contrast this with our current favourite dedicated UHD Blu-ray player, Panasonic's DMP-BD900, which costs nearer £600. You’d be forgiven for thinking the One S is a no-brainer. If only it was quite that simple. Let’s start with 4K. To be clear, this isn’t a true 4K console. You can’t play native 4K games – that’s a feature reserved for Microsoft’s more powerful (and presumably more expensive) console, codenamed Project Scorpio, due to launch at the end of 2017. What the Xbox One S does is upscale your current games collection to 4K, which is neat, but your 4K TV does exactly the same thing for all your non-4K content too. In addition to 4K support, there’s HDR (High Dynamic Range) compatibility. Some Xbox One S games will have HDR material
embedded, so you you’ll be able to experience the enhanced images on a compatible TV. HDR goes hand-in-hand with 4K Blu-ray and also streamed 4K content from Netflix, which is supported out of the box. At the time of writing, the version of the Amazon Video app is still waiting on an update for 4K HDR.
bitstreamed to a compatible amp. For the casual armchair fan it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but home cinema enthusiasts with extra Atmos speakers in their room will be disappointed.
Slight caveats One feature from the original console is the rear-mounted HDMI input. It’s designed to allow you to hook up a set-top box and use the Xbox’s OneGuide to control your TV watching and allow you to interact online. But there’s one slight drawback with the way it’s been implemented. The console’s HDMI input doesn’t support 4K passthrough, so if you own a set-top box capable of outputting 4K video, such as Sky Q’s Silver box, you can’t feed 4K content into the console and display it natively on your 4K TV. Microsoft’s official line– “we will continue to make the changes needed to support pass-through” – makes it sound like it won’t happen any time soon either. The Ultra HD Blu-ray drive also comes with a slight caveat. Because of the way the console processes audio, all your movie soundtracks are decoded onboard the Xbox One S into PCM. This was also the case with the original console, but it means that you won’t be able to enjoy object-based surround-sound formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X which need to be
Tidy appearance The user interface has undergone a couple of changes. Microsoft has attempted to clean it up by rearranging its menus and ‘tiles’. It looks smarter, but reaching some areas still requires too many button presses, and feels as if it were designed with little thought as to how the user interacts with it. The original Xbox One was widely criticised for its bulk, and the Xbox One S has been placed on a crash diet. Now 40 per cent smaller, it looks even slimmer thanks to the thin black section underneath. The external power brick from the original has been banished, and instead Microsoft has squeezed a new, smaller power supply into the One S. It doesn’t eat into your shelf space, plus the console can either lie horizontally or vertically. Besides a neater power arrangement, Microsoft has also attempted to tidy up the console’s appearance. Touch-sensitive controls have been swapped for buttons. The awkward, side-mounted USB socket is now at the front of the console, alongside an IR blaster. It’s undoubtedly a smaller, tidier package, but it all feels a bit budget. The Xbox One’s wireless controller has also been tinkered with. It now has twice
The wireless controller now has a slimmer body – but it feels less substantial than the previous one
The Xbox One S is 40 per cent smaller than the One. It also looks slimmer thanks to the black band
The rear-mounted HDMI input lets you hook up a set-top box and use Xbox’s OneGuide to control your TV
The console can either lie horizontally or vertically, a neat touch which will save shelf space
The external power brick has gone, and Microsoft has squeezed a smaller power supply into the One S
The One S is the cheapest 4K UHD Blu-ray player, but it doesn't beat a dedicated player
“The Xbox One S is the cheapest 4K UHD Blu-ray player on the market, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a no-brainer. If only it were that simple”
Ultra HD Blu-ray
the range and can communicate with Windows 10 PCs over Bluetooth. It features a slimmer body and a textured plastic surface, designed to aid grip. It’s nice to use, but feels less substantial than the One’s controller. Microsoft still hasn’t fitted a rechargeable battery pack, so make sure you’ve got a good supply of AA batteries.
Overcooked colours HDMI input
Play The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on Ultra HD Blu-ray and the Xbox One S produces a vibrant, punchy picture. The bright neon lights of Times Square contrast impressively against the dark night sky. Colours have a real sense of solidity – Spidey’s red and blue onesie stands out from the shadows as he hurls himself down New York streets searching for bad guys. The Xbox One S also serves up a good dose of detail. The textures of his suit are easy to see, while the patterns are sharply drawn. As he performs in-air acrobatics, motion is handled well, with only a minimal trace of judder. Even as Spidey’s suit ruffles in the breeze, the picture stays solid. Switch to the Panasonic DMP-UB900 and on first glance the same image looks a
little subdued. But you soon notice the UB900 majors more on subtlety. Colours are expertly judged, to the extent the One S sometimes appears overcooked. The way the Panasonic handles HDR content allows brighter, punchier moments to have a more lasting impact. It squeezes every last ounce of detail from the sheen of Spidey’s suit as it captures the sunlight. As the sun tries to force its way through the clouds, the Panasonic has a better grip on where the picture should be at its most punchy and how it should handle the varying degrees of brightness.
Acceptable audio In our experience, bitstreaming audio from your source to your home cinema amp and allowing the latter to unpack the audio data yields the best results. You don’t get this option with the Xbox One S – soundtracks are automatically decoded onboard the console and fired out as PCM. The result is audio that’s just about acceptable for a budget Blu-ray player. Listening through our reference Yamaha RX-A3060, the Xbox sounds brighter and leaner than the Panasonic DMP-UB900 and struggles to convey the same sense of drama and excitement. The Xbox uncovers a decent amount of detail, but the dedicated player digs up an extra layer or two. Watch Edge of Tomorrow on Blu-ray, and as the soldiers are getting ready to drop on to the planet the air is thick with tension. The rumble of the transporter engines, the
strained dialogue, even Tom Cruise’s frantic attempts to arm his exo-suit, are effortlessly communicated by the Panasonic. By contrast, the Xbox struggles to deliver the same sense of drama, and there’s a hesitancy and meekness to the sound. As he falls and flails through the air, the relative quiet is interrupted by the occasional blast of gunfire. You just about get a sense of a shift in the dynamics through the Xbox, whereas through the Panasonic it’s explicit and unquestionable. So how does the Xbox One S stack up as a sequel? Well, it feels a little like we’ve been here before. The cast may have improved, but there are still a few gaping holes in the script. The Xbox One S plays the role of games console perfectly well, but doesn’t really show the 4K format in its best light. The price may prove tempting for some, but in our opinion there are too many character flaws for it to be considered a box-office smash.
Rating ★★ ★ ★
PICTURE SOUND FEATURES
VERDICT As tempting as the budget price may be, this ‘4K’ console doesn’t quite deliver as a 4K UHD Blu-ray player
AKG N40 | In-ear headphones | £350
Just add source for top sonic results FOR Excellent build; comfort; capable of stunning sound
AGAINST Need a fine source to sound their best
With many of us listening to music while out and about, it’s little wonder the market for premium earphones appears to be going strong. After all, why wouldn’t you want the best sound quality possible at the times you do most of your listening? There is, however, an issue: you might have the best earphones for the job when you’re out and about, but what about the source? Do you have a source talented enough to drive those high-end buds?
Sound’, filters, but you also get tiny pairs of ‘Bass Boost’ and ‘High Boost’ filters that can be swapped in to give more oomph to the bottom or top ends. This is nothing new. Around a year ago we reviewed the £45 Rock Jaw Alfa Genus earphones, which took the same approach – and we remain unconvinced by the concept. If you like bassy headphones, buy bassy headphones. If you want trebly headphones, buy trebly headphones. If you want good, honest neutral headphones… you get the point. Once run in, the N40s with the ‘Reference Sound’ filters installed sound rather fantastic – when driven by a suitable source. Listening to the earphones plugged directly into an iPhone, or Samsung Galaxy S7, or even a
Look the part - sound the part You would expect a £350 purchase to impress you from the moment you open the box – and the AKG packaging acts like a presentation case, displaying the assorted contents for maximum cooing effect. The N40s are smart-looking headphones, mostly plastic in construction but lightweight as a result and made to look fancier with a shiny silver finish. They’re comfortable, too, with the fitted over-ear hooks keeping the buds secure and perfectly positioned to create an effective seal without any discomfort. Those hooks running over your ear also act as dampeners to prevent vibrations spoiling the sound. That’s great for those using these headphones during their commute. The headphones themselves are only part of the N40 story, though – the accessories are also key. You get a selection of earbuds in four different sizes, plus a cleaning tool, flight adapter, compact carry case and two cables – one ‘straight’ option, and one with a mic and three-button remote that can be used with either Android or iPhone via a little switch on the back. But perhaps the bigger selling point is the fact that you can swap the earphones’ filters to tweak the sound. Installed in the factory are the standard, or ‘Reference
Screw in one of three different filters to alter the sound of the N40s – we prefer ‘reference’
★★ ★★★ The cables hook over the ears: this makes for a more secure fit - and also helps reduce vibrations. Perfect for commuting, then…
“The N40s will work best for the listener who packs not just a phone full of hi-res tunes, but also a decent portable DAC” MacBook, gives you a flat and unengaging sound with treble that is rather hard and incessant.
DAC’s the way to do it On this performance alone, the AKGs wouldn’t be getting a five-star rating – but bolster your source with a quality DAC, such as Audioquest's DragonFly Red, and the N40s spring into life. Play Radiohead’s Burn The Witch and the track’s threatening energy grabs you by the lapels. That spaciousness remains, with Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals given plenty of room to breathe in the midst of the carefully orchestrated instrumental chaos around it. Switch to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s soundtrack for The Road and the AKGs have the detail recovery and low-level dynamics necessary to deliver the texture and raw beauty of this recording. There’s plenty of weight at the bottom even if you avoid the ‘Bass Boost’ filters (and we would avoid them), but the lowest notes could do with just a little more impact in the leading edge. That treble, conversely, is far less hard once you’ve got a capable source
KEY FEATURES Sound Bass Boost
– there are rare occasions that it stands out just a touch, but overall the delivery has great range and impressive balance. The AKG N40s sound great, but they’ll work best for the listener who packs into their pocket not just a phone full of hi-res tunes but also a decent portable DAC. If that’s you, we applaud your dedication to the hi-fi cause and recommend you give these premium in-ears an audition.
Swappable sound filters
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ Detachable cables
SOUND COMFORT BUILD
iPhone & Android compatible
VERDICT The M40s may be demanding of source and recording quality, but indulge them a little and they are awesome
With its dial-heavy front, the PM6006 looks just like its predecessors
Marantz PM6006 | Stereo amplifier | £400
Marantz steps up once again FOR Insightful delivery; good phono stage; digital inputs
AGAINST No USB input
Hi-fi kit isn’t like festival tickets, train fares or council tax. If the price goes up there is generally a good reason for it. Marantz’s budget stereo amplifiers usually enter the market around £300, so we can’t help but look at the £400 Marantz PM6006 – part of the brand’s new 6006 Series, alongside the CD6006 CD player – through quizzical eyes. The PM6006 appears to be a modest heir to the five-star PM6005, getting a second optical input, new ‘high-performance’ feet, and upgraded internals such as improved power supply and metal housing.
Rabbits. The Marantz lays down the baritone vocals with pleasing insight – emotion is conveyed with the clarity to stand apart from the piano and drum accompaniment without sounding astray. A 24-bit/96kHz recording of Willie Nelson’s Dark as a Dungeon cover (via coaxial) reveals the PM6006’s sonic ability and its knack for revealing textures. His country twang is captured by the recording’s spaciousness, and the Marantz paints a serene and calm canvas that befits the song. The predicament facing the PM6006 is that its price puts it closer to the Award-winning Cambridge CXA60 (£500). The CXA60 takes punch, solidity and detail levels far enough to justify the extra outlay. The transition from Marantz’s PM6004 amplifier to the PM6005 saw the addition of a DAC and digital connections – an upgrade that hurled it into the digital age – but no such leap has been taken with the PM6006. Matching its predecessor’s legacy connections – four line-level inputs, a phono stage, 6.3mm headphone port and tape-loop for recording – it still has the same 24-bit/192kHz support and retains its predecessor’s single coaxial input. The PM6006 looks just like its predecessors, going right back to the PM6001. It’s still a solidly built aluminium
Emotional baggage The good news is the same smooth, suave outlook and even-tempered balance of its predecessor manifests itself from the first few guitar twangs of Santana’s Song of the Wind. But when switching between the PM6006 and the 6005, we notice the 6006’s presentation is cleaner and clearer – more solid too, particularly through the midrange. The bluesy instrumentals have more assurance – the epic electric guitar solo ripping through the arrangement has more passion and pathos, while the Marantz is determined to bring cymbals, bass guitar and drums to your attention. La Fuente del Ritmo from the band’s Caravanserai album shows off the PM6006's dynamic handiwork. There’s variation to the piano notes, which go for warmth over outright crispness – as is often the Marantz way. The jazz/salsa fusion is one of the more rhythmically intricate in our collection, but the Marantz takes it in its stride – only starting to sound muddled when the volume is pushed up too far. We let it come up for breath with a more sparse recording, The National’s Pink
★★ ★★★ KEY FEATURES
24 bit -192 kHz
Two optical inputs
chassis, in silver or black, with a dial-heavy front for input, volume and tone controls. The second optical input makes it more versatile for someone with a combined two-channel hi-fi and home cinema system looking to connect a hi-fi component – Marantz’s CD6006 CD player or N6005 streamer, for example – as well as a TV. With the PM6005, we expressed a wish for a USB input for a more straightforward connection to a laptop, but that wish remains unfulfilled. With the right adapter, you can hook up a laptop via either of the amp’s optical inputs, but it’s not ideal.
Nailed down The Marantz PM6006 exists as another solid go-to for someone nailing down their first hi-fi system. It has clearly improved sound over the PM6005 and a marginally more appealing set of digital connections. Right now, it stands as a stepping stone between the Award-winning Onkyo A9010 and Cambridge amplifiers – and rightly deserves to be in such formidable company. The only real disappointment is that, again, Marantz hasn't quite fully embrace all digital sources.
says The PM6006 has many connections – but no USB input
Rating ★★ ★ ★★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD
VERDICT Yet another fine budget amp from Marantz – and there’s room for further digital upgrades
Wharfedale Diamond Active A1 | Stereo speakers | £600
“Even, clean and detailed balance” FOR Detailed sound; taut bass; expressive mid range; set-up
AGAINST Not the most rhythmically precise or energetic
★★ ★ ★ ★
Silver driver surrounds and a black leatherette finish help give a premium feel
Many things require solid foundations to function – houses, marriages and cheesecakes to name but three. With many of its recent speakers inspired by the successful Diamond 200 Series, you can add Wharfedale’s speaker engineering to that list too. The 200s now form the basis of another two closely related powered speakers: the A2 floorstanders and the A1 standmounts. The A1s are based on the Diamond 220 standmounts and are 32cm tall and 19cm wide. They feature the silver-coloured driver surrounds from the Diamond 200 Series, but also have nicely rounded cabinet edges and are finished in black leatherette (with black or white baffles).
The hub of the matter The A1s come with a separate control hub that your sources connect to – either via the hub’s optical, coaxial or RCA inputs, or over aptX Bluetooth. It wirelessly communicates the music signal to the speakers over the 5.2/5.8GHz frequency band, avoiding the often-crowded 2.4GHz frequency for less interference. However, Wharfedale’s ‘true wireless’ claim should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s true that they don’t need physically wiring to one another, but both speakers still need to be connected to the mains. They also have to sit within 20m of the hub, admittedly not a problem for most. The hub looks like a giant’s coffee coaster. It has touch controls on its top panel to change volume and input, adjust the tonal balance and update the software. The remote control makes performing those functions even easier.
100W power output
A stereo pair, or twin mono Inside each speaker cabinet you’ll find a 50W amplifier. This drives a 13cm woven Kevlar cone mid/bass and a 25mm fabric dome tweeter. The speakers have a few features of their own too, such as bass adjustment, and a mono mode so that they can go solo in different rooms. Each speaker can also act as the left or right channel in a stereo pair. We place them just over 2m apart, 30cm from a rear wall and slightly toed in towards our listening position. Here we strike gold, revealing the Wharfedales’ even, clean and detailed balance. In Sturgill Simpson’s Oh Sarah, the plucked bass guitar line is deep
“The hub looks like a giant’s coffee coaster. It has touch controls to change volume and input, adjust the tonal balance and update the software”
Optical, coaxial, RCA inputs
and tuneful, the reverb insightfully intact, but it never threatens to overshadow what is a focused, well-integrated midrange. We’re taken aback by the fullness of Simpson's vocals, which are as expressive as they are solid. At no point does the sombre string section feel sidelined, either. Mostly the Wharfedales deliver on cue, although Imogen Heap’s The Listening Chair reveals an issue on the rhythmic cohesion front. They get the structure of the album’s eclectic catalogue of domestic sounds, but they aren’t as convincing when it comes tto ttying i th them ttogether. th
These speakers never sound subdued, but nor do they ever really let loose. A sense of liveliness is absent whether sourcing music from our Naim NDS/555 PS streamer or playing Sunflower Bean’s Human Ceremony from Spotify. You feel the Wharfedales lean more towards finesse than fervour. A system built around the A1s is invariably going to be neater and simpler than a traditional hi-fi set-up. While not the purveyors of the chirpiest sound around, they remain an option to take seriously.
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND BUILD
Your sources connect to a separate hub, either with or without wires
VERDICT These powered standmounts are a fine and practical alternative to a budget system of separates
The Sony's tidy, unassuming box won’t dominate your living room or home cinema
Sony VPL-HW45ES | Projector | £1850
“This projector sets new standards” FOR Crisp picture; natural colour pallete; easy set-up
AGAINST Nothing particularly at this price
Many things are blindingly evident the moment you set your eyes upon them: War and Peace is too long to enjoy; that bloke clearly plays World of Warcraft; don’t invite a tiger over for tea. A new addition to that list could be the Sony VPL-HW45ES. So clearly talented is it that, from the moment it shines upon our screen, we fret over the number of ways we can tell you to buy it.
The VPL-HW45ES comes with a handy compact remote control
“So talented is the Sony VPL-HW45ES that, from the moment it shines upon our screen, we fret over the number of ways we can tell you to buy it” many projectors are prone to over-egging the pudding in this respect, overcompensating for the medium with brash, excessively lurid tones. The VPL-HW45ES, however, can pride itself on a subtle palette without forgoing any of that vividness.
Subtle palette Two years on from the release of the Sony VPL-HW40ES, we believe this Full HD projector (also compatible with your 3D movies and loaded with features to customise the picture to your viewing satisfaction) sets new standards. It looks unassuming enough – a tidy box, available in light grey or black, that won’t dominate your living room or home cinema – but its clean façade belies somewhat its capabilities when you turn it on. Set-up is simple. Having propped the VPL-HW45ES on our AV rack and connected it to an amp, it takes just a few twists of the lens to get the image to fit and a whizz through a THX Optimizer disc before we're watching The Imitation Game on Blu-ray. Sony claims the projector’s 1800 lumens brightness means you get a clear, crisp picture even in a well-lit room, but we’d suggest cutting all the lights to feel the full force of what this piece of kit can do. The picture is undeniably crisp and detailed, shirt creases showing as clearly as the outlines of the figures wearing them. Colours are pleasingly natural as well –
★★ ★ ★ ★
Deep pockets We play around with colour and brightness, but find the original (post-THX Optimizer disc) settings to be accurate. We experiment with motion processing on The Imitation Game, but find the highest settings look a little unnatural and overly processed. Turning them off leaves the action juddering a little, but there’s a middle ground that suits the combination of slow-moving drama and the odd war scene perfectly. Depending on personal preference and the type of film you’re watching, the VPL-HW45ES is more than capable of finding the right fit.
There are a multitude of features here, but due to the native picture-quality being so good, rather than the settings themselves being obsolete, you needn’t worry too much. Don’t expect the world from Reality Creation, however high you set it while watching Fifty Shades Of Grey. Essentially, the VPL-HW45ES is really good. If you want anything better you’ll need much deeper pockets, but at this price we'd recommend this Sony whether you’re upgrading your home cinema set-up or willing to invest an extra chunk into kicking off with a projector that will stand you in good stead for years to come. Will it trouble the Awards? You'll have to turn a few pages to find out, but this review might be the only clue you need.
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ PICTURE FEATURES
For the best results, cut the lights and see what this great piece of kit can do
VERDICT As soon as we switch it on, we realise the Sony VPL-HW45ES is a winner. It comes with our hearty recommendation
Although it houses the same elliptical subwoofer as its Media 4 stablemate, the M3 presents a sleek, clean shape
Q Acoustics M3 | Soundbar | £300
Design rethink for Q’s latest device FOR Clear, detailed, weighty sound; design; ease of use
AGAINST Booming bass; competition from within
By all rights, the new Q Acoustics M3 soundbar should have a five-star review in the bag. After all, it builds on the company's Media 4, which has been our favourite budget soundbar (and Award-winner) since 2014. An updated and sleeker design, extra features such as HDMI, and a clearer, more detailed sound should all point to the M3 superseding the old bar. So what's going on?
inputs and a 3.5mm socket to plug in other sources. For those wanting to stream songs wirelessly, aptX Bluetooth makes the process fast and painless. The LED around the bar's power button lights up with different colours depending on the input used, and the top control buttons have been redesigned as well. They are responsive. Equally responsive is the
Slimming regime pays off The new M3 improves on the Media 4 in many ways, the most obvious of which is the design. The M3 looks sleek and modern. It’s an improvement upon the Media 4’s rather awkward trapezoid shape, which has been slimmed down to something more sensible and bar-like in the new version. Build quality is sturdy, and the svelte shape is all the more impressive considering the M3 houses the same large elliptical subwoofer driver from the Media 4 in the back of the unit. This negates the need for an external subwoofer. Two BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) drivers handle the left and right channels. Anyone disappointed in the lack of HDMI inputs in the Media 4 will be pleased to know the M3 has one at the back of the unit. Other connections include an optical input (which can support music files up to 24-bit/96kHz), a pair of analogue RCA
The colour of the button surround is input-dependent
“The piercing edge of shattering glass and squealing tyres sounds crisp and attacking” tiny credit-card-style remote, which is basic but simple to use. One new addition is the ‘MoviEQ’ sound mode, which claims to enhance movie soundtracks (read: more ‘oomph’ to the bass). Considering the M3 already has an abundance of bass that doesn’t need exaggerating, we’d steer clear of this mode – the normal ‘stereo’ mode works just fine. We start with the John Wick Blu-ray and instantly find ourselves drawn into the big, rich sound that goes well beyond the soundbar’s modest proportions. There’s plenty of meat to sink your teeth into when bullets fly and punches are thrown. Dialogue is clear and direct, too. There’s enough nuance coming through to discern the assassins' deadpan delivery. The M3 delivers the brooding soundtrack’s crunchy guitar riffs and thumping drum beats with plenty of power. The piercing edge of shattering glass, squealing tyres and pinging bullets sounds crisp and attacking through the M3, and there's generally more clarity and detail than with the Media 4. What lets the M3 down is a booming quality to the sound that spoils the otherwise decent
★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES
balance. Clarity and organisation isn’t entirely compromised, there’s just a little muffin-top around the midrange that sounds ungainly. It’s present throughout and sticks out like a sore thumb, regardless of the type of music you listen to. The M3 also falters on rhythmic ability. The edges of notes don’t stop and start as precisely as they do on the Media 4, nor does it handle dynamic shifts with the subtlety needed to build up tension in songs such as The Dead Weather’s 60 Feet Tall. The Media 4 simply times better. It has a better sense of rhythm, and of how instruments should gel together. It’s that effortlessly musical and subtle touch that makes it a more engaging and immersive listen with movies and music alike.
Too close for comfort If it weren’t for that booming bass, the new M3 would have fared far better. Then there’s the matter of price. The M3 costs £300 – just £30 shy of the Media 4. As the M3 isn’t a direct replacement, it’s a bit baffling why they are so similarly priced. It means, in a straight comparison, the Media 4 is still the soundbar we’d recommend. The M3 has plenty going for it in terms of its smart design and rich presentation. In certain ways it’s a step in the right direction, but it needs to offer better performance to step out of the Media 4’s long shadow.
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD
No frills on the remote, but it‘s clear and simple
VERDICT There’s plenty to like about this new soundbar, but its older sibling overshadows it – and for similar money
Though touted as portables, the Sines are quite heavy and clamp a little tightly
Audeze Sine | On-ear headphones | £450
It’s a Sine of the times FOR Spacious presentation; go loud; 3.5mm cable
AGAINST Uncomfortable if worn for long periods; pricey
Apple’s decision to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7 might have been a turning point in headphone design, but some headphone companies are already one step ahead. At £450, the Sines are at the more expensive end of the market. And they use planar magnetic technology instead of conventional drivers, still something of a rarity for headphones. The Sines have rock solid build quality, with a tough aluminium frame, sturdy leather finish and thick, flat cables and, though touted as portable cans, they aren't as convenient as rival portables. The earcups don’t swivel, for instance, making them awkward to pack away when you're on the move.
★★ ★ ★ ★
The edges of notes are cleanly etched out, with guitar strums neatly defined, and drum snares hitting with just enough bite. But once you get past those attentiongrabbing first impressions, you notice the upfront character comes at the expense of subtlety in dynamics and rhythm. That brooding bassline in The National Anthem sounds big and muscular, but it needs to be tauter and dig deeper to really get under the skin. We want the Sines to punch better with more impact, and convey the grungy dirtiness to the edges of that bassline, rather than pushing everything forward in the name of excitement.
A tough aluminium frame and sturdy leather finish means build quality is solid
“In a post-3.5mm headphone jack world, Audeze has put the right foot forward but we can’t help being a little disappointed”
Many alternatives You won’t be able to make a direct comparison to the iPhone 7, but you get a more engaging performance by plugging the 3.5mm cable into the iPhone 6S’s headphone jack. The loudness goes, but the start and end of notes are more defined, there are more layers of detail between each note, and timing is better. Musically, it’s a more interesting listen than through the Lightning cable. Audeze has put the right foot forward with its premium-quality headphones in a post-3.5mm headphone jack world, but we can’t help being disappointed. The solid build quality and robust sound will appeal to some, but it’s not the most comfortable, subtle or precise sound for the money. The options for wired headphones to use with the new iPhone 7 are limited, but there are plenty of excellent wireless alternatives. Headphones such as the B&W P7 Wireless (£320) and the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless (£380) combine style, comfort and superb sound quality for less than the Audezes. No multiple cables either.
They're rather heavy, too, and the clamping pressure on our samples is also a little too high, which affects our long-term comfort.
Clocking in The main headline for the Audeze Sines is that Lightning connector at the end of its ‘Cipher Lightning cable’. But what’s more pertinent is the 24-bit DAC-and-amplifier built into the same casing as the threebutton remote and mic. The DAC takes over clocking duties from the iPhone, reads the digital music data coming through the Lightning port and also operates as a headphone amplifier. It’s worth noting the DAC will draw a little power from your iPhone when playing, but we don’t notice a huge drain on the battery. You won’t be able to listen to music and charge your phone at the same time, as both functions use the Lightning connector. Thankfully, the Sines also come with a conventional cable with a 3.5mm plug – crucial for listening to products that still have an old-school headphone jack. Both cables are thick, flat and sturdy but, like the Audeze cans themselves, are built for strength and durability, not aesthetics. They can become grubby over time, especially the grippy ends where the cable plugs into the headphones.
The Sines sound better through the 3.5mm jack Using an iPhone 6S, we play Radiohead’s The National Anthem, and it goes loud. For iPhone owners used to tapping the volume up button in vain, this is the Sines’ best aspect. It means you get a thumping beat when listening to Blackstreet’s No Diggity, and feel the full, ominous power of the iconic riff in Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath. The upfront character of the Sines is instantly rewarding, greeting you with layers of clear detail in a spacious presentation.
Rating ★★ ★ ★ Apple Lightning connector cable
SOUND FEATURES BUILD
VERDICT The Audeze Sines are loud and upfront, but not comfortable, subtle or engaging enough to justify the price
PMC Twenty5.23 | Stereo speakers | £2970
Compact floorstanders take a big step forward FOR Agile; detailed; lovely midrange; bass authority; build
AGAINST Some might find the cosmetic detailing a bit showy
★★ ★ ★ ★
PMC is 25 years old. In that time it has grown from a small concern focused on professional monitors into one of the mainstays of the premium domestic speaker market. The company’s new Twenty5 range celebrates that, and demonstrates just how much it has learned over the past quarter of a century. We’ve already reviewed (and loved) the largest standmounts in this range. Now it’s the turn of the starter towers, the Twenty5.23s. This model is already turning out to be the big seller of the range, and it’s not hard to understand why.
OEM supplier SEAS. It uses a Sonolex dome and is designed to deliver a smooth, insightful sound with wide dispersion. PMC has long been a fan of paper cones, but for the Twenty5 range it has moved to a material called G-weave – a resin-bound, fine-weave glass-fibre and pulp hybrid cone material claimed to deliver improved rigidity without adding too much character. The 23s uses a 14cm unit, designed with a long throw to cope with large-scale dynamics and high volume levels. Its chassis is made of cast alloy and designed to be as open as possible to minimise any impedance to air flow as the cone moves. A PMC wouldn’t be a PMC without the use of transmission-line bass loading. A transmission line is a folded path built into the speaker cabinet that takes the rearward energy from the mid/bass unit and absorbs all but the lowest frequencies. These bass frequencies exit the speaker through the mouth on the base of the front panel and augment the drive unit’s forward output.
refined while the low-end is strong without dominating. We’re also pleased with the speakers' composure and their ability to keep things in order even when the music becomes demanding.
Compact dimensions The Twenty5.23s are small. Standing just over 90cm high and 16cm wide, they are compact enough to fit into most rooms without intruding. That’s an important factor. A product can sound brilliant, but if it can’t fit unobtrusively into a domestic environment it won’t even make the shortlist in most cases. PMC understands this point better than most. It’s not just the size, either. These are smart. Some may find the metal detailing a little showy, but the 23s look more like luxury furniture than typical floorstanders sold at this price. There are four finish options – oak, walnut, amarone and diamond black. Our samples are beautifully made, and everywhere you look, from the crisp cabinet edges and nicely machined stabiliser bars on the base to the lovely terminals, the finish is impeccable. While these may resemble the muchadmired Twenty 23s, the only things carried over are the screws that hold the tweeter. The Twenty5’s cabinet keeps the now-established slanted look, but the company has done a lot of work to make it as solid and low-resonance as possible. The most obvious change is the move from full-size plinths to metal stabiliser bars. As before, PMC uses isolating rings between the base of the cabinet and the spike assembly. The drive units are all new. The 27mm soft-dome tweeter is co-engineered with
A smoother flow of air The big advance for the Twenty5 series is the addition of what PMC calls the Laminair vent. This is the fancy finned structure visible at the mouth of the 23’s transmission line and it’s designed to smooth the way air flows out. The advantages claimed are less noise, faster responses and better low-end definition. And that’s how it turns out. Once up and running these 23s are hugely capable. They’re best in small to medium-sized rooms and deliver a beautifully balanced sound. We start off with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and are soon caught up in the action. The 23s are surprisingly dynamic, delivering subtle and larger-scale dynamic shifts with enthusiasm. They punch hard and go loud, yet maintain their composure. Of course there’s a limit to what such compact boxes can do, but at no point do we feel short on authority or low-end weight. Tonally, things are well judged. There’s plenty of bite in the treble but it remains
Imaging is about placement Stereo imaging is excellent – just keep these PMCs away from sidewalls and at least 30cm in front of the back wall. Once positioned properly, the 23s render an expansive soundstage that extends well beyond the speakers themselves. It’s precise, stable and layered with care. The claims made for wide dispersion ring true, as the imaging doesn’t falter when we move away from the (relatively) wide sweet spot. A switch to Adele’s 21 shows off the PMC’s excellent midrange performance. Vocals are nicely separated and strongly projected, with each nuance and subtle shift in pacing rendered with skill. The 23s deliver a full dose of Adele’s passion on Someone Like You while communicating the drive to make the most of tracks such as Rolling In The Deep. This ability to track rhythms is rammed home when we listen to Drake’s Headlines, where the PMCs sound right at home hammering out the hard-charging beat yet still tracking Drake’s distinctive drawl with determination. While the 23s are relatively unfussy, you still need to partner them with talented kit to hear what they can really do. We think the likes of Roksan’s Caspian M2s (CD and amp combination) or Naim’s pricier ND5 XS streamer and SuperNait 2 amplifier pairing would work well.
Significant advance At first we feared for the Twenty5.23s. They don’t look all that different from the well-regarded Twenty versions and cost around a third more. But once we started listening it’s obvious that the new speakers are notably better across the board. If you’re looking for a top-class pair of compact floorstanders we can’t think of a better alternative. Highly recommended.
USE IT WITH Roksan Caspian M2/M2 CD £1900/£1900 The CD player's ryhthmic bite and the amp's finesse complement the 5.23s beautifully
The finned mouth of the transmission line – the Laminair vent – is designed to boost low-end definition
The beautifully machined singlewire terminals typify the 5.23s' high standards of build and finish
Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND COMPATIBILITY BUILD
VERDICT These floorstanders are terrific. Match them with a suitably talented system and the Twenty5.23s will sing
AWARDS 2016 INTRODUCTION
AWARDS 2016 Here they all are: this is the best hi-fi and home entertainment equipment you can buy. A year’sworth of invaluable buying advice distilled down to the only guide you need.
We don’t need much of an excuse PRODUCT O F gladto pull on our glad EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2 Consequently rags. Consequentl the annual What Hi-Fi? Awards (33 years old and counting) was the usual cavalcade of Park Lane elegance combined with a five-deep queue at the bar consisting entirely of people in unaccustomed evening-wear. By the end of the bunfight Mr Digital Editor Joe Cox and I had handed out 102 Awards, including 27 über-desirable Product of the Year gongs. So on the following 76 pages you can absolutelyy the discover the products that represent absolute he best value for money around. And you don’t even have to try to find a cab at 1.30am in the middle of London.
Simon Lucas Editor
INTRODUCTION AWARDS AWARDS 2015 2016
HOME CINEMA BLU-RAY PLAYERS
SOUNDBARS & SOUNDBASES
PORTABLE IN-EAR HEADPHONES
PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS
STREAMING APPS & SERVICES
SPECIALS READERSâ€™ AWARD TEMPTATIONS
AWARDS 2016 TURNTABLES
With the vinyl revival still in full swing, now’s the time to fill that 12-inch gap in your hi-fi system with our Award-winning turntables
No product N d iis more worthy off a 2016 Pl 3 Award than the Planar
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST TURNTABLE £500-£1000 REGA PLANAR 3/ELYS 2 £625 Last year, the Rega RP3/Elys 2 record player was our Product of the Year, as it had been for the four years prior to that. But this year, Rega has outdone itself with the Planar 3, replacing one Award-winning turntable with another. The difference in quality between these two turntables is less of an evolution and more of a seismic shift. Combined with the Elys 2 moving-magnet cartridge, this turntable is so much cleaner and clearer than its talented predecessor that it could be another five years before it moves from this spot.
Handled with finesse
The list of improvements is as impressive as it is long: the plinth of the Planar 3 now has a pair of phenolic braces to strengthen the area between the tonearm and brass main bearing, and the bearing itself is redesigned to improve its fitting and reduce stress. The RB330 arm also has a new bearing housing, and the bias arrangement is clearer, as are the markings on the spring-loaded dial that sets the tracking weight. 34 www.whathifi.com
Playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 D Minor, every instrumental thread is kept neatly in place and composure maintained regardless of the complexity of the music. Large-scale dynamic shifts are delivered with enthusiasm while subtler shifts are handled with finesse. The cartridge – and indeed the complete package – conveys the music with cohesion and sparkle. The Rega ties together the individual strands so that the music’s emotional content is communicated with clarity.
The essence of music
Changing to REM’s Find The River, the Planar 3 delivers Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocals with style. There’s plenty of texture and nuance, and a convincing sense of body. The gentle swing of the track is brilliantly rendered and there are equal doses of power, weight and articulation. That Rega has managed to pack this standard of audio quality into such a relatively affordable design is an amazing feat. The Planar 3 locates the essence of any piece of music and conveys it with passion and emotion. Few products are more deserving of the accolade Product of the Year.
TURNTABLES AWARDS 2016
BEST TURNTABLE UNDER £500 REGA PLANAR 1 £250 Since the original Planar 1, Rega has made a considerable number of tweaks and improvements to its turntable, so much so the overall effect is such a jump in audio quality that the previous winner of this category, the Pro-Ject Essential II, seems almost lazy by comparison. The Planar 1 makes a performance of any track, while lesser decks sound like they’re only rehearsing. The platter enhances the flywheel effect, and this is the first of Rega’s entry-level turntables to house a 24V synchronous AC motor with an aluminium pulley (which results in a lower noise and improved speed stability). The new RB110 tonearm’s precision bearings and automatic bias adjustment has been modified too. It sounds a lot more expensive than it is, earning itself a space in our testing room reference system.
Hits the right note
Rega’s claim that the Planar 1 is a plug-in-andplay product is more than just marketing spiel. We spin The Tallest Man On Earth’s Dark Bird Is Home and the moment we hit Darkness Of The Dream there’s a notable shot of adrenaline. The Planar 1 snaps at the heels of the song. It’s full of energy and solidity that resonates
The Planar 1 could be the last component of your system to be upgraded
superbly with the Tom Petty/Waterboys-infused drive of this track, as it does when supporting the album’s more delicate numbers. You’re not going to be wanting for body from this turntable. Switching to Django Reinhardt’s Djangology and the Planar 1 soon reveals an intensity to the way Reinhardt fingers his notes. It’s phenomenally precise, and we are able to hear the distinction between those notes stroked and those punished with a firm hand.
Probably the finest test of any product is how long we use it once having already come to our conclusion. In this case, the Planar 1 is still playing and proving it can turn its hand to
Dmitri Shostakovich as adeptly as it does Toots and the Maytals or Charlie Parker. Even as an entry-level turntable, this is the kind of player that could feasibly be the last of your system’s components that you’d need to upgrade. At this price, there is nothing better on the market.
“The Planar 1 sounds more expensive than it is, earning a place in our reference kit”
BEST TURNTABLE £1000+ CLEARAUDIO CONCEPT £1000 Concept is definitely a ‘plug-and-play’ product. The company’s own MM Concept cartridge is fitted to the Verify Direct Wire Plus tonearm, and Clearaudio sets everything, up to and including the cartridge weight and bias, before it leaves the factory. All that’s left to do is fit the platter and drive belt – then the Clearaudio is ready to play. The Clearaudio C C Concept t f a speciall makes for hi experience i e ownership
The only turntable to retain its 2015 Award, Clearaudio’s Concept remains a steadfast champion in our testing rooms, facing off every challenge that has come its way. Unlike some rival designs in this upper price segment that require patience, a steady hand and a passable grasp of mathematics, the
We like products that make the ownership experience special, and this Clearaudio does just that. It’s brilliantly made, combining simple lines with a top-quality finish. In fact, before playing a record, it’s worth taking a moment to admire the Concept’s clean design and substantial appearance. Speed (33⅓, 45 and 78rpm) is controlled by a hefty rotary dial, and the whole thing exudes the sort of solidity more usually associated with volcanic rocks. The Concept has a fast and agile sound that picks up subtleties with ease. It has strong
dynamics and sonic precision, and is at home with all types of music. It also possesses a neutrality of character that means it will fit comfortably into most systems.
It’s a thriller
Play Billie Jean from Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Clearaudio is little short of thrilling. It thunders through the low-frequency action with poise and pace to spare, combining punch, extension and tonal variance in equal meaure. There’s never any doubt of the dynamic power the Concept brings to the songs, and its timing is crisp enough that it never misses a beat, giving momentum and drive to tricky recordings without losing composure or focus. We said that the Clearaudio’s strengths are untouched by time, and the fact that it remains the best vinyl player at this price is a testament to the astounding sound quality from such a classy design. It’s going to take something special to knock this turntable out of place.
“It remains the best player at this price – testament to astounding sound quality” www.whathifi.com 35
AWARDS 2016 TURNTABLES
BEST USB TURNTABLE AUDIO TECHNICA AT-LP5 £330 The best USB turntable category is a new addition for this year’s Awards. The option to have a device that you can plug straight into your amplifier and spin your records, or connect to your computer and digitise your discs, has become more prominent. Of the turntables that offer such functionality, none is better than Audio Technica’s AT-LP5.
Sense of anticipation
The AT-LP5 charms us because of its attention to detail. It feels great, from the the touch of the dial to switch between rotation speeds, the precision of the tonearm and the way in which it glides from its rest to vinyl. There’s a sense of craftsmanship to the AT-LP5 that has been perfectly matched to technological necessity. Its J-shaped tone arm, a retro design harking back to the 1960s and ’70s, is engineered to minimise any tracking errors. Then there’s the AT95EX cartridge, exclusively designed for this turntable and fitted to an AT-HS10 head shell for what Audio Technica claims is a perfect balance for its tonearm. Before you even touch a record, the design of this turntable fills you with anticipation. And the expectations are met completely. Playing Nils Frahm’s An Aborted Beginning, the
AT-LP5 has a great sense of the setting of the recording, a combination of spacious soundstage and detail. The synthesized notes and rumbling lows are balanced, never wanting for bass.
Moving to the track Says, the bubbling synthesizer pattern times wonderfully, its dynamic emphasis allows the piece’s six minutes to grow rather than stagnate. It is an arrangement utterly dependent on anticipation of its climax, a task for which the AudioTechnica here is easily adept. It’s dynamically versatile enough to express the intensity of each note, allowing movement to the most simple of patterns rather than mere relentlessness.
A mix of technology and sound quality make the AT-LP5 a pleasure to use Either using the built-in phono stage, or running it through an external pre-amplifier, we enjoy the overall character of this turntable. It’s a delicate blend of technology and sound quality that makes this vinyl player an absolute pleasure to use.
“The Audio Technica AT-LP5 charms us because of its attention to detail”
ble How to set up a turnta
Take care to properly align the cartridge. Even an an error of a degree will increase the distortion significantly
Usually, you’ll have to install the platter and drive belt. Put the arm’s counterweight o on and remove ssurrounding rrounding packaging
2 15 Before you start, make sure the turntable has a rigid low-resonance support tosit on, and that it is level 36 www.whathifi.com
While mo most counterw i h counterweights come with marki markings, iit iis still best to use dedicated scales to ensure accuracy
M A D E I N G R E AT B R I TA I N
Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis
DAC • HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER • PREAMP
THE MASTER OF DIGITAL DAVE is a stunning modern masterpiece of digital technology. It features the latest incarnation of our ground-breaking FPGA technology which has been painstakingly refined over the past two decades. Hand-crafted in England, DAVE is the most advanced DAC of its kind in the world. That’s why DAVE is The Master of Digital.
Chord Electronics Ltd.
AWARDS 2016 STREAMERS
Have music files stored in a range of formats and want to play them all via one box? Our Award-winning streamers may be the solution
The Azur 851N is well built and capable of class-leading sound
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST MUSIC STREAMER £1000-£2000 CAMBRIDGE AUDIO AZUR 851N £1200 Cambridge knows how to make great music streamers. Last year the company took our top streamer Award with the CXN (still the best sounding sub-£1000 unit around) and this year it’s the turn of the range-topping Azur 851N. The 851N is a definite step up from the CXN in performance, as it should be considering the price difference. It’s a more versatile product too – unlike the CXN, it can double as a digital preamplifier. This means you can plug it straight into a power amp or a pair of active speakers, saving on the cost of a standalone preamp and all the associated cabling.
Inside you’ll find the volume controlled by a 32-bit Blackfin digital signal processor and the number crunching done by a pair of 24-bit Analog Devices DACs. These are configured in dual-differential mode for greater accuracy, according to Cambridge. There’s better connectivity too, with the 851N adding a second coaxial and optical, and third USB, inputs as well as the less common AES/EBU connection. That’s all great, but it’s sound quality where this streamer really strikes gold. The 851N has a muscular, full-bodied presentation laced with enthusiastic drive, bone-rattling punch and class-leading insight. Every track you play is served with large helpings of expression, dynamic skill and detail. In Sufjan Stevens’ Jacksonville, cascading violins, keyboards and banjo-strumming are all wonderfully textured around his intimately 38 www.whathifi.com
rendered vocal. Trumpets soar freely through the mix, and the delicate bells never have to fight for attention. While the Azur 851N excels with a 24-bit/192kHz recording of Hans Zimmer’s Born In Darkness – giving it a dramatic and layered presentation – it doesn’t sound unduly put out when we feed in a 320kbps MP3 version of the track either. There’s some loss of atmosphere and it lacks a touch of expression, but there’s still enough quality on show to keep us listening.
The 851N’s design looks ‘premium’ and we don’t doubt its solid full-metal casework or polished (silver or dark grey) finish will stand the test of time. While the intuitive remote is on hand, the free Cambridge Connect app (iOS and Android) is the best way to access and browse your music. It works well, promptly picking up the servers on our network – just make sure both your device and streamer are on the same network. Whether you connect the Azur over wi-fi with the supplied USB adapter or via ethernet cable, networked music files up to 24-bit/192kHz can be streamed from your PC, laptop or NAS drive. It can handle everything from DSD64 to FLAC and WAV. Spotify Connect and AirPlay are also included, as is Bluetooth if you purchase an optional £70 dongle. Cambridge has produced a music streamer that’s well built, generously featured and, most importantly, capable of class-leading sound quality. While £1200 is a hefty sum, we feel the Azur 851N is worth every penny.
STREAMERS AWARDS 2016
BEST MUSIC STREAMER UNDER £100 GOOGLE CHROMECAST AUDIO £30 Google knows a thing or two about streaming. You can look at the success of the Chromecast to see that. The audio version is designed to bring wireless streaming to your (offline) traditional home hi-fi. The premise is essentially the same as with the video equivalent: the device connects to your wi-fi network, streams directly from the internet and is controlled by smartphones, tablets and computers. So where does the music come from? You’ll need a Cast-compatible app. There are many
“For people who want to get into streaming, this is an ideal toe-dipping product”
free and subscription options including Spotify, BBC Radio iPlayer, Deezer, Rdio, TuneIn Radio, NPR and Google Play Music. There are two hard-wire connections: a microUSB port used purely for power (with a wall adapter included in the box), and a hybrid 3.5mm/digital optical output.
Affordable home audio
Setting up is a breeze. Use the app to speak to the Chromecast Audio, then tell it to log into your home’s wi-fi. The most complicated thing here is deciding on what to name your new toy.
The Chromecast app is no longer just a set-up portal either. Now it also serves as a discovery tool: it lists all the apps you have that are Cast-compatible, with the option to download others. It also lets you manage your network connection settings and, more importantly, your sound settings. There is a ‘guest mode’, which allows other people to control and play music on the Chromecast Audio without joining your home’s wi-fi. Multi-room functionality has also been added, which makes this one of the most affordable way to get into whole home audio.
A whole new world
We try the Chromecast Audio with a range of products, from a Denon D-M40 micro system to our reference Naim/Gamut/ATC combination, and it performs well. It’s no substitute for the more expensive music streamers in this market sector, but it offers excellent functionality at a tempting price while still sounding perfectly acceptable. For many people who want to get into network streaming, this is the ideal toe-dipping product. It opens up a whole world of new listening possibilities, all for the price of a takeaway meal. That’s great value in our book.
The Google Chromecast Audio will bring streaming to your home hi-fi system
BEST MUSIC STREAMER £100-£500 PIONEER N-50A £380 Last year we wondered how Pioneer could top the N-50A. It was almost the complete product, delivering a combination of performance, features and price no rival could better. Pioneer seems to have had the same thought, and ended up doing nothing to the unit. However, since we last reviewed it, the price has dropped by a significant £120, making the N-50A more tempting than ever.
The N-50A works with a number of sources. Its DLNA certification means it will traverse your network to shake hands with other devices, from NAS drives to smartphones.
The N-50A is a talented, well-built streamer with a really impressive sound
USB Type-A ports let you play from iPods and iPhones, as well as hard drives and memory sticks. A USB Type-B connection allows you to hook up a computer. You also get Spotify Connect and Internet radio, while AirPlay brings in Apple devices. And if that’s not enough, there are optical or coaxial inputs. Optional external adapters offer to add wi-fi or Bluetooth.
“In many ways, it’s hard to believe that Pioneer offers so much for so little money”
File compatibility is extensive: MP3, LPCM, WAV, WMA, AAC, Apple lossless, FLAC, AIFF and DSD. Got hi-res audio? The N-50A goes up to 32-bit/192kHz (or 5.6mHz with DSD). It can take almost anything you can throw at it.
But what really impresses us is how it sounds: the top end sparkles (it is confident and controlled, but never sounds hard), while the midrange is poised and detailed. Bass notes are hefty but not heavy-handed. Tonal shifts are conveyed with ease, making for a rhythmically adept and fluidly dynamic performance. There’s lots of attack, too: the combination of precision and punch makes for an engaging listen. There’s also plenty of insight thanks to good detail definition and a high level of clarity. Instruments and vocals are placed firmly in the airy and spacious soundstage. Move away from sound quality and the N-50A continues to impress. It’s easy to use and is built well. We haven’t come across a rival that feels so solid or is finished with such attention to detail. In many ways it’s hard to believe Pioneer has offered so much for so little. It’s this sky-high performance-per-pound ratio that gets the N-50A an award for yet another year. www.whathifi.com 39
AWARDS 2016 STREAMERS
BEST MUSIC STREAMER £500-£1000 CAMBRIDGE CXN £700 Last year’s Product of the Year wins in its price class again, but this victory is hardly a surprise. The CXN’s fantastic performance separates it from the herd – there’s a completeness to the performance, combining subtlety, snappy timing and rich detail, that’s just wonderfully entertaining.
The CXN has punchy presentation with a good grasp of rhythm and low-end impact. Basslines are textured and bound along happily thanks to the lively sense of rhythm. Leading and trailing edges of notes are precisely delivered, and there’s seemingly no end to the energetic drive. The CXN doesn’t hold back from delivering the full impact of a song: the brooding, screeching intensity of The Dead Weather’s 60 Feet Tall is fully conveyed. The admirably balanced tone in evidence never puts a foot out of place, either. Drums hit accurately, the bass digs deep, and the top end sparkles – but stops shy of sounding bright or coarse. The midrange in particular sounds lovely, with voices fully fleshed out and packed with character. The streamer isn’t fussy about file type, sounding fluid and dynamic with hi-res and Spotify-streamed tracks alike.
Another year, another Award for the wonderfully entertaining Cambridge CXN You can connect to your home network via ethernet, but Cambridge Audio includes a wi-fi antenna in the box if you prefer the flexibility of a wireless connection. The front or back USB ports can charge your smartphone, but for playback both inputs are compatible only with USB hard drives and memory sticks.
Extensive file support
The CXN also features Spotify Connect and internet radio, and file support is extensive: all the popular formats like WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC and MP3 are supported, as well as DSD 64 files (which can only be played using the back-panel
USB input). All digital inputs on the CXN are capable of playing hi-res files of up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution. We have to hand it to Cambridge Audio. The CXN remains the obvious choice at this part of the market. If its big brother, the 851N, hadn’t turned up, this would have won the Product of the Year gong again. It’s that good.
“The CXN remains the obvious choice at this part of the market”
BEST MUSIC STREAMER £2000+ NAIM ND5 XS £2250 Regular readers will know we use Naim’s range-topping NDS/555PS streamer/power supply combination as our reference music streamer. We love it – but we’ll let you into a secret: you can get a good slice of the NDS experience, and save the price of a car in the process, by plumping for the ND5 XS. No, it doesn’t sound as good, but Naim’s entrylevel streamer has pretty much the same infectious character as its mighty big brother. In fact, it’s identical right down to the extensive feature list that covers pretty much anything anyone could reasonably want.
But features are not the main reason the ND5 XS wins an Award. That’s down to sound quality. It’s a stunningly capable streamer no matter what kind of music you throw at it. Feed it wellrecorded, high-resolution files, and it shines. Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow (in 24-bit/96kHz) bursts through with confidence
“The ND5 XS is a stunningly capable streamer, whatever kind of music you give it“ 40 www.whathifi.com
and authority like no other. Each lilt and inflection of her vocal is enunciated through the streamer with startling precision. It’s a stunningly balanced and dynamic presentation, with seemingly no limit to the highs and lows it can reach. The treble is rounded off just a little at the very top end to combat any undue brightness. However, it’s not at the cost of any excitement or detail – Nina Simone is still allowed to belt her vocals out, for example, and Tom Waits has his signature rasp intact. The ND5 XS handles delicacy and muscle when needed. Timing is precise, with every instrument working cohesively in a carefully controlled soundstage. It never sounds too analytical. Naim’s entry-level streamer has an infectious character
Radiohead’s challenging arrangement in 15 Step is one of our favourite test tracks, and the Naim takes it in its stride. Snappy and tightly woven, it’s a toe-tapping performance. The ND5 XS has an effortless quality to it, and given the appropriate partnering equipment, it flourishes.
A tempting product
Naim’s sturdy black chassis, minimalist design and crystal-clear display have an elegant, premium-quality feel to them. The supplied remote control looks smart and feels natural to use, with buttons laid out logically and the menu responding instantly to any presses. The ND5 XS is a tempting product, with few weak points. If we wanted a premium music streamer this is where our money would go.
STREAMERS AWARDS 2016
BEST VIDEO STREAMER AMAZON FIRE TV £80 The world is hardly short of video streamers, but if you’re looking for something that works well, is easy to use and outputs 4K, your options are rather limited. The latest version of Amazon’s Fire TV is our choice.
Daredevil. Both are gritty shows and that grit is remarkably sharp in 4K. We’re not talking about artificial definition through processing – it’s a focused and insightful image that allows you to count the wrinkles on faces, if you so wish. On the audio front, this box can pass through surround sound up to 7.1 via HDMI, depending on what the app and the content offers.
To watch 4K from this Fire TV box, you’ll need a 4K television, of course. And not just any 4K set – it needs to be compatible with HDCP 2.2, although most recent sets will be. Then you’ll need a good internet connection – Amazon reckons you’ll need a minimum of 15mbps. All good? Then you will be able to watch 2160p video at 30fps. Be aware that the Fire TV doesn’t do HDR as yet, but the step up in performance between Full HD and 4K is a pretty significant jump on its own. There are some big TV shows on both Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, though only TV shows are included in your monthly Prime subscription – Amazon’s 4K films require separate rental or purchase. Thankfully, those TV shows look really good. We jump from Amazon’s Bosch to Netflix’s
No better alternative
Few streamers handle 4K video yet, but the Fire TV is our choice
“This is a well thought-out product in a market that tends to rush things”
We experience no lag at all with the new Fire TV. It can easily handle a series of fairly rapid button presses without making you pause and wait as the cursor catches up. It helps that the wi-fi is of the dual-band, dual-antenna, 802.11ac variety, but we recommend the ethernet alternative for an even more stable connection. This is a well thought-out product in a market that tends to rush things to production. Even though it doesn’t do HDR as yet, we haven’t come across a better alternative.
How to... stream
Network Attached Storage Store all your music files on the NAS, which then connects to your home network via a router
Stereo amplifier If you have digital inputs, try USB or optical connection to hook the amplifier up to the streamer
Networked streamer The streamer sends your music from the NAS to your hi-fi system – and connects to other devices
Loudspeakers Connect your speakers to the amplifier, sit back and play music via your NAS-based audio system
AWARDS 2016 IN-EAR HEADPHONES
IN-EAR HEADPHONES For great sound on the move or something for the commute, a pair of in-ears might do the trick
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2 Momentum M2s are still the best-sounding in-ears, pound for pound
BEST IN-EAR HEADPHONES £50-£100 SENNHEISER MOMENTUM M2 IEi £80 It’s another year, another Product of the Year Award for the Sennheiser Momentum M2 in-ear headphones. Not only are they the crème de la crème of in-ears at this price, they’ve also dropped in price since last year. This sector of the in-ear market is hugely competitive and ever-growing, so it’s to the M2s credit they’re able to stand out from the pack for the second year in succession.
Weighty, yet nimble
The M2s deliver the wonderfully smooth and balanced sound that we have come to expect from the Momentum family – there’s plenty of drive and a great sense of musicality. Lows are rich and weighty, but they hit your ears with purpose and intent. Play 50 Cent’s I’m The Man and each pounding, prodding bass kick boasts weight. Leading edges are well defined, and the pace is aided by the Sennheiser’s nimbleness and ability to time a fast tempo. The highs of the percussion are crisp and precise without sounding too hard or overly sharp – they pulse and scatter out of the top of the presentation with impressive dynamism. 42 www.whathifi.com
There’s a fine sense of clarity to the sound too. Playing The Temper Trap’s Lost, there is impressive spaciousness around instruments and vocals – the finer nuances are easy to pick out and the emotion of the track comes through with ease. Each level of the sound is given plenty of space in which to shine.
Jump straight in
For the money, it’s impossible to question the M2’s ability. Numerous rivals have fallen short, and even models costing twice the price have struggled to keep up with these super-talented in-ears. Whether you want to upgrade your entry-level buds or just want to jump straight in at this price, the Sennheiser Momentum M2 in-ears deliver outstanding sound quality on all fronts.
“The M2s deliver the wonderfully smooth and balanced sound that we have come to expect from the Momentum family”
IN-EAR HEADPHONES AWARDS 2016
BEST IN-EAR HEADPHONES UNDER £50 SOUNDMAGIC E10C £40 SoundMagic has become a regular fixture in this category over the past few years. The company’s affordable E10s, in one form or other, have walked away with five Awards over the past five years. This makes it six from six. In this version, the C stands for ‘compatibility’ – E10Cs now feature a three-button remote that automatically switches the poles on the jack for compatibility with iOS and Android. Previously you had to flick a switch on the headphones and it was only a one-button remote. Needless to say, the new streamlined system works a treat and helps you warm to them instantly. For budget in-ears, the E10Cs are extremely desirable. The well-made metal buds look smart, and they feel a good deal more luxurious than the agreeably budget price suggests.
“For budget in-ears, the E10Cs are very desirable. They feel more luxurious than their price suggests”
The E10Cs are a textbook Award-winner, a good value-for-money product, which has few serious rivals. An almost giveaway budget price, coupled with some great sonic skills, give consumers little excuse to persist with the (mostly) average earphones supplied with most h s and music players. smartphones
C Consistency is key y
C for f ‘compatibility’? More like ‘consistency’.. h sixth h year in a row, the h E10s remain n For the o go-to budget b d h d h d though h h the h our headphones, and f sound quality hasn’t taken a huge leap forward h time, it’s remarkable k bl that h SoundMagic d c this c still ffinds different ff can ways to implement h b h price.. improvements without bumping up the SoundMagic’s E10s remain our go-to budget headphones
From the pummeling guitar chords that open PJ Harvey’s The Ministry of Defence, the E10Cs aren’t afraid to empty their tank, throwing their weight and enthusiasm behind the thunderous metal-heavy orchestration. Vocals bask in the clarity of the SoundMagic’s midrange with pleasing insight. Bass levels are deftly handled, while highs sound lucid.
BEST IN-EAR HEADPHONES £100-£300 £100 £300 SHURE SE425 £230 If you’ve just had a feeling of déjà vu it could because the SE425s are appearing in their fourth consecutive What Hi-Fi? Awards issue. Like the Sennheiser M2s, the SE425s are repeat winners and it doesn’t take a degree in audio engineering to hear why they have dominated this section since 2013.
Pulse with energy
It’s all about the detail – and lots of it at that. The Shures immerse you to such a degree you almost forget the headphones are looped over your ears. The level of finesse and degree of sophistication on offer here is astonishing. energ Put on These headphones pulse with energy. SE h some classic rock and the SE425s prove they’re h dl h d more than capable of handling punchy drum rh h h thwacks and tight rhythms without ever tipping over into brashness. s l d as you like, l k and d The midrange is as solid h d h that rich vein of detail continues right down the d and d placed l d frequency range. Vocals are nuanced neve conflict fl with h other h to the fore, yet they never freq elements in the same frequency range.. l h h It’s helped by the sense off isolation, which extensi h SE425s really ll aids low-frequency extension. The everyth d you.. do block out almost everything around
“It doesn’t take a degree in audio engineering to hear why the SE425s are repeat winners in this category”
The enclosures are detachable, so any worn-out cables can be replaced for less than the price of a new pair of headphones. They also swivel on the ends of the cables, making them easier to fit. unconventi If you are on board with the unconventional h k d on your styling, and the SE425s being hooked b k Shure h h ha ears, you’ll never look back. has set such stand d that h its main rivals l h ll high standard have ffallen w ll short. h bl not to consider d these h well It’s impossible d worthy h off an Award. d. impressive b buds The SE425s are all about energy, finesse and sophistication
AWARDS 2016 IN-EAR HEADPHONES
BEST IN-EAR HEADPHONES £300+ AKG N40 £350 If your music system is portable or PC-based, and features hi-res music files and a headphone amp/DAC, you might have your sights set on a premium pair of in-ear headphones. And at £350, the N40s should be right at the top of your list. These smart-looking lightweight headphones are mostly plastic in build, but made to look fancier with a shiny silver finish.
“The N40s are a sensational pair of headphones. We’re certain you’ll love them”
They’re comfortable, with the fitted over-ear hooks keeping the buds in position for an effective seal. They also allow minimise cable noise, which is ideal for using on the move. Perhaps the most interesting selling point is the fact you can swap the earphones’ filters to tweak the sound. Installed in the factory are the standard, or ‘Reference Sound’, filters but you also get tiny pairs of ‘Bass Boost’ and ‘High Boost’ filters that can be swapped in to give more oomph to the bottom or top ends. The N40s with the Reference Sound filters sound rather fantastic, particularly when driven by a suitable source. Bolster the sound with a DAC, such as the DragonFly Red, and the N40s spring further into life. We play Radiohead’s Burn The Witch and the track’s threatening,
The AKG N40s come with two pairs of filters to boost bass or treble string-led energy grabs you from the off. Thom Yorke’s haunting, echoey vocal is given plenty of room to breathe in the midst of the carefully orchestrated instrumental chaos around it.
Switch to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s soundtrack for The Road and the AKG’s have the
detail recovery and low-level dynamics to deliver the texture and raw beauty of this recording in full. Overall the delivery has great range and impressive balance. The AKG N40s are a sensational pair of headphones and, provided the rest of your system is suitably talented, we are almost certain that you’ll love them.
is right for e n o h p d a e h f o e p ty h Can do Whic
OVER-EAR The most traditional hi-fi headphone design (also called circumaural), these cup your ears completely, usually with semi-airtight earcups. You’ll notice cans of this type used as monitors in recording studios. Depending on the type of design they use they can be extremely effective at cutting out the noise of the outside world.
ON-EAR Supra-aural or on-ear designs tend to be smaller and lighter than circumaural models. They sit on your ears rather than over them, usually pressing on to them as well. Some listeners find them lighter and easier to wear for extended listening than over-ear models, but their design necessarily means they tend to allow in more sounds from outside.
IN-EAR Gone are the days when everyone else has to hear your music. In-ear buds are a great way to isolate yourself in sound. Nowadays, in-ears usually come with a range of differently sized rubber tips, which help provide a good seal. There are many designs out there and a better fit means better sound, so experiment with tip sizes.
Introducing high-res emotion. In a soundbar. The PULSE SOUNDBAR delivers a high-res audio experience that brings any soundtrack to life in vivid, cinematic detail. Created by world-renowned speaker designer Paul Barton, the PULSE SOUNDBAR features crystal clear, 24-bit resolution sound and audiophile grade bass response - without a subwoofer. It’s also the ﬁrst soundbar designed to stream original studio master ﬁles (MQA™) for an unprecedented spatial experience of sound texture and realism. This is the soundbar your TV deserves. Discover a whole new world of sound at Bluesound.com/touchedbysound
AWARDS 2016 SOUNDBARS & SOUNDBASES
SOUNDBARS & SOUNDBASES Soundbars, and their bigger Soundbase cousins, will boost your TV’s sound, without needing to invest in a home cinema system
It’s a hat-trick of Awards for the smooth-sounding Q Acoustics Media 4
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST SOUNDBAR UNDER £500 Q ACOUSTICS MEDIA 4 £330 Three years on, and the Q Acoustics Media 4 shows no sign of stopping. Even when faced with competition from within – the brand new Q Acoustics M3 (p25) – the Media 4 can’t be toppled from its Product of the Year throne. With its svelte design and HDMI input, the new £300 M3 should be the better soundbar. But the M3 doesn’t time as well as the Media 4, and there’s a tubbiness to the bassline. The Media 4 is only £30 more too, which seems a small price to pay for a better balanced and more rhythmically interesting sound.
Loud and clear
So what’s the secret? The Media 4 is simply a joy to listen to. Whether you’re watching Daredevil or The Great British Bake Off, its fluid dynamics, expressive midrange and solid sound will keep you hooked. Even when things start getting hairy in John Wick, with bullets puncturing holes in their targets, the Media 4 keeps its composure: there are no aggressive highs, nor any flabby basslines. Voices are heard loud and clear, and there’s enough nuance to discern sarcasm, humour and 46 www.whathifi.com
heartbreak when the dialogue calls for it. Glass-shatters, punches and gunshots have crispness and depth to them, even with a layer of smoothness making everything comfortable to listen to.
This sturdy bar is nicely made, even if the trapezoidal shape might be a touch awkward to accommodate. However, the extra space allows for a large, elliptical subwoofer driver to be placed at the back of the cabinet, which is responsible for the soundbar’s impressive low-end weight and negates the need for a separate subwoofer. Connectivity remains basic but practical. We’re not fussed about the lack of HDMI, as it’s simpler to hook your TV up to the soundbar’s optical input. You can add other music sources using the coaxial, stereo RCA and 3.5mm inputs, and there’s Bluetooth for wireless streaming. The Media 4 might not deliver the biggest sound, but its effortlessly enjoyable sound and smooth balance continues to set the standard. It has delivered a hat-trick of Award wins and, for now at least, it’s untouchable.
SOUNDBARS & SOUNDBASES AWARDS 2016
BEST SOUNDBAR £500+ DALI KUBIK ONE £800 Every time we look at the Dali Kubik One, we’re a little more smitten. Though this luxurious soundbar would look at home in a lifestyle magazine, with its cloth finish and svelte design, thankfully the Danish manufacturer’s rich heritage in loudspeaker design means it belongs firmly in the pages of a hi-fi magazine. Start with The Martian on Blu-ray and you’ll be greeted with a stunningly revealing sound with an astonishing level of authority. The Kubik One is a big bar, and the soundstage produced is wide and spacious, allowing sound effects to comfortably ping around the soundfield with The Dali wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of a lifestyle magazine
precision and punch. Dynamically, the soundbar is so fluid and layered we’re completely caught up in the action on screen.
There’s ample low-end heft to the roar of engines and explosions in Mad Max: Fury Road, while The Imitation Game’s melancholic soundtrack is handled with impressive control and dynamics – you can hear the layers of textures in the piano notes and the sweeping, swelling strings. Dialogue in particular is remarkably clear and expressive, with voices packed with nuance and depth. It’s an immersive performance. But whether you’re watching a film or listening to music, the Kubik One’s greatest strength is its ability to grab your attention. We just don’t usually expect this kind of experience from a soundbar. The Dali is kitted out with two optical and a single pair of analogue inputs, aptX Bluetooth streaming and a sub output. But our favourite is the addition of a micro USB port for
your PC or Mac laptop. Three cheers if you’ve got a library of hi-res tracks stored on there – the Dali can handle tracks up to 24-bit/96kHz. The Bluesound Pulse Soundbar (£1000), its nearest rival, adds the ability to play even higher resolutions and has more streaming options, but the Dali surpasses it in every other way.
Elsewhere, the petite metal remote control is a welcome upgrade from the original plastic credit card-style device, and the buttons on the unit are responsive and nice to use, too. That price tag might sound a little steep for your average soundbar, but we think the Kubik One’s talents are obvious from the moment you press ‘play’. This is the second time running the Dali Kubik One has won an Award, and we can’t fault it. We’re once again astonished at how refined, articulate and cinematic this elegant Dali sounds. It’s a gorgeous and hugely entertaining centrepiece for your home’s sound system.
“We don’t usually expect this kind of experience from a soundbar”
BEST SOUNDBASE CANTON DM55 £330 Soundbases haven’t enjoyed the same popularity as soundbars of late. While soundbars have flourished thanks to their slim and wall-mountable form, flat, rectangular and chunky soundbases have been rather sidelined. But this excellent Canton DM55 continues to make a case for the humble soundbase. If your TV is on a stand, and there’s space under it, then that’s where the DM55 will make its home.
Not all brawn
As a potential way to improve your TV’s sound, the DM55 is well worth considering. The chunky, solid sound is packed with subtle textures and soaring dynamics, and it’s fairly slim and compact by soundbase standards. You’ll hardly notice it’s there. You can connect your TV to either the optical or coaxial inputs (there’s no HDMI input), while analogue inputs and aptX Bluetooth streaming are available if you want to listen to music.
As the superpowered, city-dropping action in Avengers: Age of Ultron gets underway, the DM55 handles the tense drama and explosions with aplomb. This soundbase has a rich and meaty character, which is perfect for fully conveying the The Hulk’s stomping, raging battle against Iron Man. Special effects are spaced out, with the right amount of punch and excitement keeping you drawn into each fight sequence. Bass hits deep for a soundbase of this size, but remains tight and stops short of being overpowering. It’s not all brawn, though. The DM55 is subtle and agile, showing control and restraint even at a higher volume. The full-bodied balance means there’s no undue harshness, and that warm, fluid sound goes well with music too.
Switching from ‘Stereo’ mode to ‘Surround’ opens up the soundfield, giving you a more cinematic feel, but without compromising the cohesion of the midrange.
This is the second year running the Canton DM55 has won this Award. We haven’t encountered another soundbase to challenge the DM55, not least because its competitive £330 price tag offers an appealing combination of features, solid build and excellent sound quality. Canton’s glass-topped design adds a premium flourish to what is already a well-built unit. It’s an affordable product that will elevate your TV’s wispy sound to a whole new level of excitement.
The DM55 is bigger than a soundbar, but fits nicely under your TV
“It offers an appealing mix of features, solid build and excellent sound quality” www.whathifi.com 47
AWARDS 2016 PROJECTORS
Nothing recreates the immersive cinema experience like a projector – and there’s now real quality right across the price spectrum This projector balances performance and price better than any other
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST PROJECTOR £1000-£2000 SONY VPL-HW45ES £1850 You might be wondering why the most affordable of the three Sony projectors winning an Award this year is graced with the Product of the Year title. But it’s precisely because it’s so modestly priced (for a projector) while delivering such a riveting picture that it wins the top accolade.
Bright sparks, sharp contrast
Pop in the Blu-ray of X-Men: Days Of Future Past and you get a crisp, detailed picture that’s lovely to watch. The projector’s 1800 lumens output means you get a bright picture even in a partially lit room, but turn off all the lights and those sharp metallic backgrounds, clean whites and flashes of special effects burst with stark contrast against convincing blacks. Colours are pleasantly natural as well. Many projectors can be prone to exaggeration in that respect, but the VPL-HW45ES can pride itself on a realistic palette that nevertheless maintains an arresting vividness. Skintones are well judged, strands of hair and threads are distinguishable, and the various cool greys inside the prison breakout scene are delivered with enough subtlety to discern various textures and depth. While good by projector standards, motion is never as smooth as you’d get on a top TV – but employing the middle-ground motion processing should iron out any hiccups or judders without incurring an artificial sheen. 48 www.whathifi.com
Like all other Sony projectors we’ve tested this year, you get only two HDMI inputs – but we find this sufficient for our sources. Set up is satisfyingly simple, with only a few twists of the lens and a whiz through our trusty THX Optimizer disc needed before we get a perfectly enjoyable (and correctly sized) picture. There are plenty of features included by Sony here to fine-tune the picture, but largely you needn’t fiddle about with them, more so due to the native 1080P picture quality being so good rather than the settings themselves being obsolete.
How good is it?
The VPL-HW45ES is really, really good. The fact that it delivers such a compelling and beautifully balanced picture for less than £2000 should be celebrated. You can get a noticeably better picture if you step up to the VPL-HW65ES opposite, but you do have to pay more than a grand extra for that advantage. The VPL-HW45ES, on the other hand, strikes that perfect balance between performance and price for which we’re always on the lookout. It’s affordable enough for anyone looking to start a home cinema (or to upgrade one) and the picture quality is articulate and exciting enough to stand you in good stead for years to come.
PROJECTORS AWARDS 2016
BEST PROJECTOR UNDER £1000 EPSON EH-TW5350 £600 For just £600, this EH-TW5350 brings a bit of the magic of cinema into your living room. We haven’t come across a budget projector this talented in a long while, and it took us only a few minutes’ of enjoying the Epson’s clean and detailed picture before we knew it was a Best Buy Award contender.
The attractive chassis is small enough to give you lots of placement options
A mature approach
We wish all budget products had the kind of maturity Epson employs with its Full HD picture. The detail on show isn’t flashy or screaming to be noticed – it’s subtle and allows gradients of colour and texture to be shown. The crispness isn’t overly etched either, giving characters a natural, three-dimensional quality. Noise is minimal across Blu-rays and DVDs alike, and the colour palette is well balanced, but the two aspects that stand out on the Epson are contrast and motion. Motion is stable, even when the action in Edge Of Tomorrow gets frantic, while the interplay of dark and bright scenes is judged wonderfully. Black depth doesn’t go as deep as we’ve seen on pricier projectors, but it is solid and textured. And when bright lamps, blazing fires and gunshots spark against shadows, it makes for an exciting, involving watch.
“It proves you can get a really skilful and enjoyable projector on a budget” The EH-TW5350’s curved chassis is nicely built, and its compact form means you have the freedom to place it anywhere you want. Since it’s more likely to be used in normal-sized living rooms, it needs to be placed relatively close to the screen - its throw ratio is 1.22-1.47:1.
h EH-TW5350 comes with h a decent d d The spread d analogue l h b k of HDMI and connections on the back p l, and d while h l it d panel, does h have its own 5W speakers, they’re too wispy and reedy. We’d definitely use external speakers to get a more involving sound to match that engaging picture. Epson should be proud. Not only does the EH-TW5350 make its case against the Sony projectors dominating this year, it also proves you can get a really skilful and enjoyable projector on a budget.
BEST PROJECTOR £2000+ SONY VPL-HW65ES £3000 With 4K TV screens becoming more affordable for the home, surely there’s no place for a £3000 projector that only does Full HD resolution? Sony defies that notion thanks to the enthralling performance of the VPL-HW65ES. It’s a very filmic picture, by which we mean it has that quality you associate with watching
“Colours and sharpness are believable, all the while drawing you into the film”
film reels in the cinema – a kind of depth and detail that doesn’t shout out at you. The colours and sharpness of the picture are believable, all the while drawing you into the film. The projector’s excellent handling of contrast is what gives it this cinematic quality. Sony marries a claimed contrast ratio of 120,000:1 with 1800 lumens of brightness to deliver a bold image with ease and subtlety. The level of detail is excellent. You can pick out the textures of clothing, right down to ratty k d the h fluff fl ff on a well ll worn jumper. sneakers and
Colours are natural yet also rich. A less capable projector would struggle with distinguishing the various hues of brown and grey in The Imitation Game, but this Sony displays the various wooden textures and black and grey suits with ease. If we have a criticism, it’s that the picture’s sharpness falters briefly when it plunges into a dark scene. It’s a minor quibble though. From the way natural sunlight permeates dark corners without sacrificing any intensity, to the smooth motion handling, this Sony is a talented and engaging performer. There are some quirks: there are only two HDMI inputs, and you’ll have to let your Blu-ray do the DVD upscaling. But this Sony is so easy to live with, we don’t mind those shortcomings.
Tried and tested tech
Excellent handling of contrast helps gives this Sony’s projections an engaging cinematic quality
Sony proves it doesn’t always have to push the boundaries of picture technology to give home cinema fans a great big-screen experience. It can do just fine with a ‘normal’ Full HD image. Don’t forget: you have to pay £5000 more for a native 4K projector. That’s a huge amount of money, and some of us aren’t prepared to futureproof ourselves this early. For those who want an enticing, big-screen picture that does justice to all your Blu-rays, this Sony is your best bet. www.whathifi.com 49
AWARDS 2016 PROJECTORS
BEST 4K PROJECTOR SONY VPL-VW520ES £9000 Sony has gone for broke this year, with this superb cutting-edge Ultra HD 4K HDR projector wowing us with its eye-boggling performance – and £9000 price tag. We’ve seen 4K projectors from Sony before – it’s the addition of HDR support that sets this unit apart. Only one of the two HDMI inputs is HDCP 2.2 compliant and capable of accepting HDR HDR, so it’s via that you’ll enjoy 4K HDR Bl d streams ffrom Netflix fl and d Amazon.. Blu-rays and Th h The VPL-VW520ES uses three native 4K S l with h a 4096 x 2160 resolution, l SXRD panels as
per the 4K film-projection standard and much like a commercial 4K cinema (as opposed to the 3840 x 2160 resolution on TVs). And if that doesn’t have you drooling over the page, maybe the claimed 300,000:1 contrast ratio and 1500 lumens brightness will. It should do, because the results are stunning.
“This fl flagship agship produces the i i big-screen bi most impressive pi ’ ever seen”” picture we’ve
When put all together, this flagship Sony delivers the most impressive big-screen picture we’ve ever laid eyes on. It balances dark and bright elements (and all the shades in between) expertly and it truly wows on our 96in screen with its sharpness, accuracy and precision. Spending time tweaking the Sony’s colour and experimenting with contrast modes pays off royally, so when we test the results on Mad Max: Fury Road, desert landscapes don’t look too richly hued. In fact, that spot-on palette coupled with gritty texture and wide-open insight provides a realism that’ll soon have you reaching for a glass of water.
This is up there with one of most complete projected pictures we’ve seen, and we aren’t talking just about 4K performance. Full HD Blu-rays and even DVDs are upscaled admirably, with a clarity that exceeds our expectations. Inevitably the picture sheds a layer of sharpness, but colour and contrast remain on the money. When our only complaint is that you don’t get any 3D glasses in the box, you know Sony is onto a winner. A 2016 Award-winner, no less. It’s a beast of a performer and an impressive indicator to the future of home cinema.
The VW520ES uses the full cinema 4K resolution rather than the compromised TV standard
our picture y st te to s e n e c s lm fi Top Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Chapter 1 The much-anticipated seventh instalment of the franchise is a visual treat, but the intro alone gives you plenty to look at. The iconic yellow text-crawl will challenge the motion-handling skills of even the most proficient projector, while the brightness of stars is a great test of your local dimming. How much darkness is your display capable of, without drowning out the twinkling stars? And how well does it juggle light and darkness when the planet appears? Finally, when the planet is eclipsed by that ship, is there a chunk of absolute darkness? Monsters, Inc (2001) Chapter 4 The whole film is a glorious test of colour palette, but chapter four has a bit of everything. Sully snoozing sees each breath disturb the fine
hairs on his furry arms. Then there’s Mike’s mini-workout, which sees more frenzied movements – there’s even more fur flapping around for your TV to lock on to. As the double-act head outside, you’re greeted by a burst of sunshine and a great panning shot down onto the streets of Monstropolis. With the best projectors you should experience a fine sense of depth as the camera captures the entire length of the street, while there’s plenty of potential for juddering and flickering along the edges of the sharply drawn buildings. Casino Royale (2006) Chapter 2 You can always rely on Bond. While the motorbike chase in the opening to Skyfall is a strong contender, and well worth a look, it’s the elaborate parkour pursuit from Casino Royale we find most demanding.
quality Animations, such as Monsters, Inc. can provide a stern test
This is eight enthralling minutes of fast, blink-and-you-miss-it action as Bond and his nemesis jump from crane to crane and platform to platform, demanding a silkysmooth handling of motion. Raid: Redemption (2011) Chapter 15 This Indonesian movie is 100 minutes of intense high-adrenalin Pencack Silat (martial arts) action.
This three-man final fight is a humdinger. Not only are its hit-a-second sequences a great test for motion, but, as it also takes place in a dimly lit run-down apartment, this scene can really separate the displays able to scupper dark detail from those that reveal it in the shadows. Playing with contrast and brightness settings will pay off here because, trust us, you’ll want to see that fatal throat slice in all its gory…
By name, by rights, by feats. Once in a generation we design and hand build loudspeakers of such stunning quality they set the standard by which all others are measured for years to come. THE REFERENCE, for connoisseurs who demand uncompromisingly accurate yet musical sound, capturing the full emotional range, depth and detail of the original performance.
AWARDS 2016 RADIOS
No longer old-fashioned devices with patchy reception, the humble radio has gone digital, acquired wi-fi and embraced music streaming The Stream 93i features SpotifyConnect. It’s both a radio and music player
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST RADIO £100-£200 ROBERTS STREAM 93i £150 We were impressed with the Roberts o s Stream a 93i from the box and another other Product of the Year moment we opened the box, Award is evidence that our opinion hasn’t changed. The Stream 93i is an FM/DAB/internet radio that will also act as a music player, accessing your digital music over a local area network (LAN). You can do this via the wired ethernet socket or the built-in wi-fi. A USB port allows you to play music direct from a memory stick if you don’t have LAN capabilities and, in a final flourish, the 93i also has Spotify Connect built in.
Subwoofer not for show
The radio is beautifully constructed and its face – with a large, clear screen and nicely weighted, tactile buttons – is certainly ready for business. But, more importantly than its looks, the Stream 93i sounds really good. Roberts has managed to combine a clear midrange (imperative for voice-driven radio) with bright – but definitely not sharp – treble, and a surprisingly powerful bass. 52 www.whathifi.com
The bass is not at all flabby, but goes impressively deep for such a relatively small box – the ‘subwoofer’ at the back of the unit is clearly not just for show. With the Roberts, however, everything blends together to produce an enjoyable listen with both music and voice radio.
Plethora of features
The music player uses UPnP, and it finds our Naim UnitiServe streamer straight away. It won’t play hi-res files, but can handle MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC and WAV. The sound matches the impressive standards we find with radio. Spotify Connect is a winner too – it’s very impressive and extremely easy to use. The sound quality isn’t quite up with the radio performance or streaming from the server, but that’s more the nature of Spotify Connect than anything else. The 93i sounds excellent for a unit of this size and price, with a fast, well-rounded bass performance managing to enhance the rest of the frequency range, rather than overpower it, and its plethora of features raise it high above its competitors.
RADIOS AWARDS 2016
BEST RADIO UNDER £100 PURE EVOKE D2 £90 Pure is a radio specialist and that shows in the Evoke D2, which retains its Awards crown at this price for another year. This is a bargain of a radio at £90, though we’d consider investing in a ChargePak as well (£40 extra) – that would make the radio really portable for al fresco listening.
Let the music flourish
The tuners are effective, finding most stations without fuss as soon as the mains is switched on and aerial extended, and then sticking to them with a cast-iron grasp. There are 20 presets, 10 each for FM and DAB. Three are easily accessible via the numbered buttons alongside the display, the other seven by pressing the ‘4+’ button and chosing via the select knob. As well as radio tuners, the Evoke D2 has an auxiliary input for an external source, and an alarm with a variety of functions and sleep timer. Once we’ve waited a short time for the auto-tune function to do its thing we get straight down to listening. And the unit sounds excellent for a sub-£100 radio. It’s incredibly detailed, excelling with voices and allowing rich mid-tones to come to the fore. It doesn’t overdo it though, so it still allows music to flourish while giving decent weight to
Add the ChargePak and the Pure Evoke becomes a portable radio too
the lows. It is an even-handed sound without undue prominence to any part of the audio spectrum.
Bass is fast and taut without being overbearing or too prominent, and higher notes ring clear without ever becoming strident at higher volumes. For less than £100, this is a very fine product. While the ChargePak would take it over the magic ton, it’s a worthwhile investment, we feel, allowing the obvious benefits of listening outside or anywhere around the house that untethering brings. It sounds balanced and extremely easy to listen to with a wide range of programming and whether over FM, DAB or via the aux input. Most importantly, there’s still nothing at this price that sounds better.
“For a sub-£100 radio, the Pure sounds excellent. It’s incredibly detailed”
BEST RADIO £200+ REVO SUPERCONNECT £280 i a full house for last year’s So it’s radios retaining their Awards but, rather than that being an indictment on a lack of exciting new products in the industry, it simply highlights how far ahead of the game this trio is. The Revo SuperConnect has a blend of modern with just a dash of retro
The Revo SuperConnect fits that bracket entirely. Not content with providing you with standard issue FM and DAB, the Revo has lots of extra features and functionality. Hook the Revo up to your home network (via wi-fi) and you can access the varied, and sometimes wacky, world of internet radio. DLNA certification means the radio can also access music stored on a Mac, PC or NAS (Network Attached Storage) device over your network. Tunes stored on your smartphone or tablet can be played over Bluetooth and the Revo also offers Spotify Connect.
Crank up to 11
We’re big fans of the Revo’s aesthetics, too – a lovely blend of modern with a dash of retro. The bright and legible 2.7in OLED display and the
aluminium front panel contrast nicely with the cabinet’s walnut veneer. On paper, it doesn’t seem like a radio built for power, but the Revo kicks out an impressively weighty sound. It won’t appreciate being cranked all the way up to 11, but there’s scale and authority here. There’s no trace of harshness or brightness, and you will find the Revo sounds good no matter what the source.
Revo has it all
The way the radio handles voices also lends itself well to dialogue-heavy radio and podcasts, making the football commentary on BBC 5 Live, for example, even more entertaining. Bass sounds richer and fuller than we’ve heard on rival radios, although, if it’s too much for your taste, you can turn it down in the tone settings. Not many radios we review manage to impress on so many fronts. Design, ease of use, and sound quality – the Revo has it all. SuperConnect by name, super by nature.
“It doesn’t seem built for power, but the Revo kicks out a weighty sound” www.whathifi.com 53
SMARTPHONE AWARDS 2016
SMARTPHONES The smartphone has evolved into a hi-res player at the heart of your music experience
LG’s innovative modular design allows you to swap out components
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST SMARTPHONE LG G5 (WITH HI-FI PLUS BY B&O PLAY) £550 Smartphones don’t tend to change much every year, but the folks at LG are mavericks who refuse to play the game. In times of subtle design tweaks and incremental updates, it’s refreshing to see a manufacturer tear down its old look and start over – the G5 is a completely new phone, with a unique take.
The G5’s new metal chassis offers a modular design – the ability to customise the phone by swapping its bottom section for one of a number of components. This means you’re able to swap out the battery. This is a dying feature in flagship phones, and one power users will embrace. Running the Snapdragon 820 chipset with 4GB RAM, the G5 is fast and responsive, with no waiting around when loading apps or navigating the operating system. It packs a 5.3in QHD display (2560 x 1440 resolution) that looks gorgeous with video. It’s crisp and sharp, offering a natural colour palette alongside brighter colours that pop but don’t look out of place. Blacks are deep, and whites pure and bright, and there’s plenty of detail and subtlety across the board. For an LCD screen, contrast is impressive too, and the increased brightness really helps when using the G5 outside.
LG was the first manufacturer to support hi-res music on a smartphone, and the G5 continues that tradition with a built-in 24-bit DAC. Though you get a good tonal balance and plenty of detail, timing could be better and dynamics stronger. So that’s where the Hi-Fi Plus module comes in – a dedicated DAC and headphone amp by Bang and Olufsen with its own headphone jack and support for hi-res playback up to 32-bit/384KHz.
Great snaps to boot
Once connected, it feels like part of the phone, sitting flush to the body and adding only a few millimetres to the design. The results are spectacular. Whether it’s our own hi-res tracks or CD-quality streams from Tidal, it sounds significantly better, delivering hard-hitting dynamics alongside better timing, more detail, greater subtlety and composure. We’d go as far to say it sounds as good as some dedicated hi-res music players. It’s also packing one of the best smartphone cameras we’ve seen, taking sharp, vibrant pictures and managing decent low-light snaps to boot. LG has nailed it this year. A great picture, a great camera and superb sound quality, all in an innovative smartphone design. The LG G5 with Hi-Fi Plus by B&O Play may be a mouthful, but it is the complete package. www.whathifi.com 55
AWARDS 2016 HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS
HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS Searing soundtracks, focused dialogue and realistic effects – treat the films you love to the sonic pampering they deserve
Denon has upped the ante once again with this subtle, refined amp
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIER UNDER £500 DENON AVR-X2300W £500 The upgrade to last year’s Award-winning AVR-X2200W, the X2300W is notably more impressive than its predecessor. Such things aren’t always a given, but in this case we’re pleased to celebrate Denon’s numerous improvements. This amplifer is beautifully balanced, and far tauter and more agile than the older model. Twelve months is a long time in tech, and the X2300W sounds years ahead. This amp has eight HDMI inputs, all capable of 4K 60Hz pass-through and HDCP 2.2 certified, as well as support for Spotify Connect, Airplay, Bluetooth, internet radio and streaming from a NAS device on your home network. Denon has even made this amplifier stable when using wi-fi in electrically noisy environments, helped by its new-found ability to work on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz wavebands. Set-up is as easy as it gets. The menus are simple and easy to follow, while the built-in Audyssey auto set-up system is accurate and fuss free. We’ve used this amplifier it in a variety of modes – 5.1, 7.1, stereo and Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 – and it never fails to impress. Starting off with a Blu-ray 56 www.whathifi.com
of Pixar’s Brave, there’s weight, natural warmth and articulation in the midrange that leaves most rivals sounding mechanical by comparison. This amplifier is great at subtleties – low-level dynamic shifts are delivered with skill and without overstatement, all of which helps to draw the viewer more into the action on the screen. As the film approaches its finale, the amp is happy to move up through the gears, delivering plenty of punch (and volume) and a spacious soundfield packed with precise movement of growls and screams.
An easy-going balance
The story remains positive with stereo music. Whether you listen through the line stages, HDMI, optical or Bluetooth, the Denon’s easy-going balance remains unchanged. Some rivals may deliver the sound with greater muscularity but the 2300’s combination of insight, agility and refinement is hard to look past. It’s a polished performer that never fails to entertain, and there’s no doubt that this is the finest £500 AV amp you can buy right now.
HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS AWARDS 2016
BEST HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIER £500-£1000 DENON AVR-X3300W £800 In the same way a vampire has a taste for blood, we’ve got a taste for Denon’s new range of AV receivers. The bigger brother of our Product of the Year, the AVRX3300W manages to fuse all its various strengths together, yet also maintains an expert balance and shows considerable finesse. The AVR-X3300 has a fuss-free layout, but that still includes eight HDMI inputs compatible with Ultra HD sources – it can even upscale content to 4K resolution. On the streaming side, this amplifier has Spotify Connect, AirPlay, Bluetooth and internet radio. It can handle all manner of file formats across a network, including 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD in both single- and double-speed forms.
Simple but effective
Denon has gone to a lot of trouble in recent years to simplify its AV amps without compromising features, and it shows. This experience is quite the opposite of the intimidating, complex affair that setting up some multichannel amplifiers can be. The amp’s Setup Assistant takes you by the hand and guides you through every stage of the process. This Denon just laps up the action. Putting on Avengers: Age Of Ultron we expect a super
This Denon laps up the action yet also delivers detail and refinement
performance – not just from the film but from the amplifier too, and we’re not disappointed. This Denon just laps up the action during the opening battle – as Thor despatches a squad of bad guys and Hulk smashes his way through an enemy bunker, low frequencies are delivered with force and solidity. During the more tense scenes, dialogue is crystal clear and there’s plenty of detail and expression to voices. And as Ultron starts to sift through streams and streams of data, sound effects flit between side channels and surge from the back of the surround-field to the front with impressive accuracy.
The X3300W can both blow your socks off with the help of a punishing, bruising soundtrack while sounding sophisticated at the same time. That’s pretty rare at this price. If you want to take your home cinema set-up to the next level, then be in no doubt the Denon AVR-X3300W will do just that.
“The X3300W can blow your socks off, while also sounding sophisticated”
BEST HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIER £1000-£2000 YAMAHA RX-A1060 £1100 drive, with effects pinged effortlessly – yet precisely – around you. The A1060 is not simply powerful though. There’s a great deal of subtlety to the sound that we missed in its predecessor. Voices are as expressive and nuanced as you’d want them to be, detail spills over across the frequency range and there’s real insight into soundtracks. Power and authority, yes, but there’s stacks of detail and subtlety too
The crucial thing in any Awardwinning home cinema amplifier is to get the compromises right. There’s always a trade-off, a balancing act, to be had with these workhorses. You need power – but you need subtlety too; your AV amp must be agile enough to ping effects around the room, but also authoritative enough to convince with explosions. And the RX-A1060 has nailed it. It has eight HDMI inputs, seven of which support HDCP2.2 for 4K playback, three each of coaxial and optical digital inputs, a USB port, 6.3mm jack and ample legacy connections.
Wi-fi, AirPlay, DLNA and Bluetooth are on hand for your streaming needs. Spotify Connect is also featured and services such as Napster and Qobuz are available via the Yamaha control app. Once the auto-calibration has finished setting its parameters, we test it out with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Yamaha is quick to show the big, bold character we’ve come to expect. It’s a powerful, large-scale sound that fills the room, putting real force and authority around the scene’s big explosions, engine-revving car chases and erratic gunfire. It’s an exciting performance full of attack and
Keep it Pure
While its midrange and bass frequencies are superbly judged, there is just a touch of hardness in the treble. Switching to Yamaha’s Pure Direct mode helps soften those edges and tightens up the whole sound so it sounds more together, so it’s not a great problem. The RX-A1060 is one of the most musical amps we’ve heard at this price – enthusiastic and punchy enough to get your toes tapping but with enough detail to keep us entertained. If you’ve got the budget, we can’t think of anything better.
“A powerful, large-scale sound fills our testing room without a second thought” www.whathifi.com 57
HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS AWARDS 2016
BEST HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIER £2000+ YAMAHA RX-A3060 £2000 Yamaha’s Aventage AV receivers are billed as the high-performance members of the family, and the RX-A3060 is far from the runt of the litter. It’s a fantastic amplifier that can convey both quiet tension and earth-shattering explosions with ease and refinement. The amp has all the processing power necessary to handle the likes of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There’s wi-fi connectivity, ethernet ports, AirPlay, Bluetooth and DLNA, as well as native support for Qobuz, Spotify, Napster and vTuner. If you name it, this Yamaha can probably do it (and do it in Ultra HD and high-resolution audio at that).
Put on The Wolverine and it’s immediately clear how talented the RX-A3060 really is – even during the brief 20th Century Fox opening sequence, it manages to give you a small taste of its dynamic prowess. 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. Then there’s an
High performance goes hand in hand with highlevel processing power
eerie moment of silence before it hits its target and 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. Thanks to the Yamaha’s dynamism and control, it manages to balance it all perfectly. The quiet moments have just as much impact as the earth-shattering explosions. The same can be said with music. 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 too intense. Simply put, if you want to go up a level or three, and if your speaker package is up to the job, you won’t go wrong with the RX-A3060.
“The opening of the film is high on tension and detail, and the Yamaha laps it up”
d-s How to set up surroun Subwoofer Avoid placing this in a corner, otherwise it may lead to boomy sound. Aim for a smooth, wellintegrated sound
Dolby Atmos Dolby’s new system adds an extra dimension to surround sound, thanks to ceiling-mounted speakers or specially configured upward-firing alternatives. Atmos adds a far more enveloping feel to the surround-sound experience
Surround speakers Conventional hi-fi stands can work well, but if possible we’d try wall-mounting your surround speakers
Amplification If you don’t listen in 7.1 or 9.1, don’t waste those power-amp channels. You can use them to power speakers in another room, or even to biwire your front speakers (so long as they support that feature)
Turn your living room into a fully functioning cinema – and be the envy of your film-loving friends
Surround back speakers This uses either one or two speakers positioned behind your seat to add more depth to panning effects. If your sofa is against the back wall, in-ceiling speakers can be effective too
AWARDS 2016 DACs
Get the right digital-to-analogue converter and it can transform your music-listening experience. We reckon these are all right
Classy, talented and affordable, the Mojo easily retains its title
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST DAC UNDER £500 CHORD MOJO £400 A year on and the Mojo retains its Product of the Year title. We’d like to say it had a tough battle but the truth is, despite a whole raft of new competition, this Chord never came close to getting beaten. It remains the star performer among sub-£500 DACs. Unlike most of its rivals, Chord has long refused to use off-the-shelf DAC chips inside its converters. Instead, the company’s digital products feature powerful programmable processors loaded with proprietary software to do the job. In our experience it’s an approach that really works. There’s no display as such, but the power button lights up in different colours depending on the sampling rate of the input signal. It goes red for 44.1kHz, green for 96kHz all the way to pink for DSD. Similarly, the colour of the lighting behind the volume buttons changes according to level. All the different colours prove a little confusing at first, but given a little time it becomes second nature. The Mojo is a small unit, with a footprint barely larger than a credit card, yet Chord has found space for a good range of connections. There’s (micro) USB, optical and coax, though the latter takes the form of a 3.5mm jack rather than the usual RCA or BNC connection. You won’t find any source selector – the inputs are auto-sensing, with USB taking priority, followed by coax. Outputs are limited to a pair of 3.5mm jacks. While these obviously lend themselves to headphones we’ve had great results using 3.5mm-toRCA interconnects to connect the Mojo to our reference hi-fi system. 60 www.whathifi.com
This DAC’s build quality is terrific. Thanks in part to the minimal detailing, the Mojo feels like a solid chunk of metal. Its aircraft-grade aluminium casing is beautifully machined and finished to a high standard. Once up and running, this a fabulous performer. We take a listen to Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece Innervisions (on DSD), and are gripped from the unmistakable opening bars of Too High right through to the end of the album. There’s plenty of detail here, and the kind of insight into the recording that little under a grand can match, let alone better.
An effective personal organiser
But it’s not the excellent resolution that impresses us most. It’s the Mojo’s ability to organise all that information into a cohesive and musical whole that makes it stand out from the competition. It delivers the hard-charging rhythm track of Higher Ground brilliantly, communicating the song’s unstoppable momentum with real enthusiasm. A move on to Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight Rises (24-bit/192kHz) reveals a surefooted handling of dynamics. The Mojo can convey power and scale when the music demands, but also has the finesse to make the most of the more subtle passages. Poor recordings (and sources) will be easy to spot, but this DAC won’t go out of its way to be nasty. The Mojo continues to set standards others can’t match. It offers a huge proportion of the performance of Chord’s pricier offerings at a fraction of the cost. Even at £400 we consider it a bargain.
DACs AWARDS 2016
BEST USB DAC UNDER £100 AUDIOQUEST DRAGONFLY BLACK V1.5 £90 Back in 2012, the original DragonFly – a DAC and headphone amplifier crammed into the tiny proportions of a USB memory stick – elicited a dual response of pure delight and ‘whatever next?’ It was conveniently compact, ingeniously simple to use and an undisputed sonic upgrade for our laptops. For this groundbreaking effort, it was named our Product of the Year. Four years and numerous upgrades later, the v1.5 version is better-sounding, cheaper and even more practical. Not in terms of its dimensions, which are exactly the same as its ancestor, but in compatibility. While the older model’s power consumption limited its use to laptops and PCs, the adoption of a new, vastly more efficient Microchip microcontroller makes this one compatible with Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. If you’ve been craving better-quality music on the go, the v1.5 has you covered. Note that you’ll need an additional adaptor lead to make things work.
There’s no display in the conventional sense, but a light behind the Dragonfly image changes colour according to the input signal. There’s green for 44.1kHz files, blue for 48kHz, amber
for 88.2kHz and magenta for 96kHz, which is where things end. Sonically, this new version is clearly a step up from its distinguished predecessors and obviously more talented than any of its immediate competition. There’s the even tonal balance, rhythmic intelligence and general joie de vivre we so enjoyed from earlier iterations, but here they’re augmented by greater insight and more determined dynamics.
Apple and Android users can now enjoy the Dragonfly’s talents
Powerful yet agile
Taking flight with R.E.M.’s Pilgrimage, we hear plenty of power behind the thumping drums yet enough agility to preserve the song’s rhythmic drive. There’s the space and organisation needed to keep the elbows of the reverberating pianos, guitar lines and dainty chimes neatly tucked in. We stream Band of Horses’ In The Drawer from Spotify, and ambient electrics spread evenly about the soundstage which, despite the file’s lower-resolution, is still ample. Elsewhere, electric guitars twang with texture, the chorus’s vocal harmonies are distinct, and the V1.5 keeps a lid on the treble as cymbals take a battering. The original DragonFly was a groundbreaking product. In v1.5 form it continues to set a sonic standard that others can’t touch.
“If you’re craving betterquality music on the go, the v1.5 has you covered”
BEST USB DAC £100+ AUDIOQUEST DRAGONFLY RED £170
Solidity, body, detail, bass extension – they’re all there in spades
Almost double the price of the DragonFly Black and apparently only a coat of red paint to show for it – the case for the Red doesn’t look so strong. Especially when you consider that it doesn’t offer any more features or raise that 96kHz sampling rate limit any higher. Why pay more? Audioquest points to a number of upgrades for the Red over the Black: a more advanced DAC and headphone amp for starters, plus a “bitperfect digital volume control contained on the DAC chip itself” that’s apparently a big improvement on the analogue volume control in the Black. A higher-output voltage (2.1v compared with the Black’s 1.2v) makes it more suitable for driving demanding headphones, too. The Red, like the Black v1.5, also works with smartphones and tablets. While none of that sounds particularly Earth-shattering, there is good news: the DragonFly Red does sound better than the Black. Loads better.
“Even low-res streams get a hefty improvement in detail, definition and dynamics”
The first thing you notice when going from one to the other is the Red’s sonic authority. This is partly in the form of overall bass extension, but is also expressed in the extra body given to every single note. There’s a three-dimensional solidity and texture to every sound that makes the Black sound flat by comparison (even though it’s undeniably accomplished in its own right and at its own price).
Back to nature
As well as being fuller-bodied, each of these notes also contains a good deal more detail. Combined with excellent low-level dynamics, this means that everything has a more natural, subtle and expressive sound. And if you want to take things back to basics and are wondering whether a DAC such as this will make a difference to your daily dose of Spotify, allow us to confirm it will. Even these comparatively low-res streams get a hefty improvement in the detail, definition and dynamism departments, and they’re as strong a case for the Red over the Black as the 24-bit stuff. In the end the case for the Red turns out to be a strong one. It takes all the positives of the Black and adds an extra dollop of sound quality. It’s a superb buy. www.whathifi.com 61
AWARDS 2016 DACs
BEST DAC £500-£1000 CHORD 2QUTE £995 5 While the Mojo broke new ground for Chord in both portability and price, the 2Qute is much more the kind of product the brand was built on. It’s a more conventional DAC than either the Mojo Product of the Year or the higher-priced Hugo. It sacrifices the portability of its siblings and is intended to be part of a traditional home-based hi-fi set-up.
“The sense of space is lovely, allowing the composition to build with grace and power”
The bespoke approach
Despite looking quite different from its siblings, the 2Qute is based around a common technology core. Chord claims its use of bespoke software and programmable chips gives it an advantage over rivals that use off-the-shelf solutions. It’s hard to argue when the results are this good. The 2Qute DAC sounds incredibly organised and detailed, delivering an effortlessly cohesive and musical performance no matter what song is being played. Prince’s Kiss (in 16-bit/44.1kHz) sounds funky and punchy, with the DAC’s remarkable precision etching out every note and beat with clarity and cohesion to produce a sound that’s both intimate and spacious. It’s a snappy, fun sound that brims with rhythmic drive.
The 2Qute is as musical and cohesive as it is detailed and organised S Stream Where We’re Goingg from the IInterstellar ll r soundtrack ((16-bit/44.1kHz)) and tthee 2Qute Qute tu ass ead g pe fo a ce. turnss in a cclass-leading performance. It digs deeper to reveal even more layers of subtlety, defining the leading and trailing edges of notes with unusual accuracy. The sense of space is lovely, allowing this dense composition to build with grace and power.
Hungry for hi-res
The 2Qute has three digital inputs – asynchronous USB, coax and optical. The coax and USB support high-resolution audio files up
to 32-bit/384kHz, while the optical is limited to a still-impressive 24-bit/192kHz. The Chord supports DSD64 and 128. Build quality is terrific. Ch d has used this type of Chord ccase fforr a while and it remains a ssmart, a t, well ell finished enclosure. The now-traditional change of background lighting colour in the porthole to indicate the signal’s sampling rate adds an extra touch of visual drama. The 2Qute’s unerring insight and rhythmic drive are the stand-out qualities here, and they’re impressive. Those who don’t need the Hugo’s portability or Bluetooth capability would do well to consider this product. At the price, we haven’t come across anything better.
BEST DAC £1000+ C CHORD HUGO £1400 0 The Hugo backs up its premium sound quality with great flexibility
and deliver a natural tone really brings Scott’s vocal to the fore. The easy-going beat and gentle build-up come through with increasing clarity, while the soulful feel of the track is ccommunicated mmunicated brilliantly. Move on to something more brutal, such as Hans Zimmer’s Gotham’s Reckoning (The Dark Knight Rises OST 24-bit/192kHz) and the Hugo rresponds sponds with enthusiasm.
High-end igh-end high flyer Thi h th d This iis the third y h Hugo h year the has won th h this category. Despite the aarrivall off a number b off talented l d rivals, l this h eextraordinary d dd and distinctive DAC continues to set the standard at the premium price level and the case for it remains as strong as ever.
A proper pre-amp
It’s a wonderfully flexible product. Just to clarify, this is a bona fide digital pre-amp with optical and coaxial inputs, two USB sockets, an analogue out, three (yes, three) headphone outputs and, last but not least, aptX Bluetooth connectivity. And it’s portable! That’s right, 62 www.whathifi.com
Chord o has as even found o room oo inside s that a petite aluminium casework ffor rechargeable b h h h ld b d batteries. A two-hour charge should be good enough for 12 hours’ use. But even with this extensive feature set, Chord hasn’t taken its eye off the ball with regard to sound quality. The Hugo is as happy and communicative with a 320kbps Spotify stream as it is feeding off the meaty resolution of a DSD music file. Start with a basic Bluetooth stream of Jill Scott’s Family Reunion and the Chord transports you directly to the recording studio. The Hugo’s desire to reproduce detail
There’s here’s plenty of resolution here, and the kind of fluid dynamics few high-end DACs can match, l t alone better. We also like the Hugo’s ability to let ganise all that information into a cohesive organise whole. If you want to, you can easily pick out dividual instrumental strands and follow individual ose, but this DAC is equally happy for you to those, sit back and enjoy the musical whole. Add the Hugo’s excellent rhythmic ability and it’s clear this portable unit, three years on, remains a brilliant proposition.
“A stream of Family Reunion transports you directly to the recording studio”
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AWARDS 2016 MULTI-ROOM SYSTEMS
MULTI-ROOM SYSTEMS With different connection options and the quality of the kit improving, it’s never been easier to spread your music around the house
Bluesound’s line-up of multi-room products has never looked stronger
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST MULTI-ROOM SYSTEM OVER £500 BLUESOUND GENERATION 2 FROM £550 Three years on the market, three Product of the Year Awards. Now that’s what we’d call a success. But Bluesound hasn’t been resting on its Award-winning laurels. Far from it. It launched the new version of its biggest Pulse speaker. Redesigned to match the rest of the range’s more grown-up look, it sounds as big and bold as ever, but just a touch more refined. We also tested the smaller Pulse Flex speaker, which offers a big, open sound stage and an expressive, enthusiastic character. It’s a great introduction to the Bluesound family – and its battery pack makes it portable too.
But Bluesound’s biggest launch this year is the Pulse Soundbar – the world’s first hi-res soundbar with support for 24-bit/192kHz music playback, just like the rest of the range. This addition means Bluesound’s ecosystem is bigger than ever, also comprising the Node 2 streamer, the Powernode 2 streamer/amplifier, the Vault 2 music server, and the middle speaker of the family, the agile and articulate Pulse Mini. 64 www.whathifi.com
While hi-res support has always been one of the range’s selling points, Bluesound’s flexibility with connections will win over an audience that feels restricted by Sonos. With aptX Bluetooth built in as standard, a USB port for connecting music drives, both optical and analogue inputs and a headphone jack, each member of this family has more ways of playing music around your house than you’ll probably ever need.
It remains one of the most musical multi-room systems we’ve heard. There’s an openness to its presentation that gives voices and instruments space to breathe and, while hi-res music is delivered with more subtlety and dynamic punch, everything you throw at this system sounds superb. Add to this a fresher, more streamlined app with better search functionality and the Bluesound line-up has never looked stronger. It might not be the cheapest way to go multi-room, but for the best combination of sound quality, connectivity and functionality on the market, Bluesound makes for a very worthy investment indeed.
MULTI-ROOM SYSTEMS AWARDS 2016
BEST MULTI-ROOM SYSTEM UP TO £500 SONOS FROM £340 It’s been some year for Sonos. Since it won this Award 12 months ago, it has bagged another five-star review for the excellent new Play:5 speaker, navigated some trickier waters with a company reshuffle and announced a new focus on voice-control technology – starting with support for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. This means you can now control the playback of your entire Sonos system without even touching your phone. Pretty nifty.
As ever though, Sonos has been looking at other ways of how it can make what’s out there even better too, and it has absolutely delivered. You can now expect Spotify Connect support, for full use of all of Spotify’s features, improved sound quality for Napster users, faster and easier playback for both Android and iOS devices, and an overall improved app design. All of this, with an impressive new flagship speaker to top off an excellent line-up, means it easily remains the best choice for multi-room audio at this price. A quick reminder of the Sonos product line-up only helps to show just how vast your options are with this kit. Have an existing set-up
Sonos remains the best choice for multi-room at this budget price
“If you thought Sonos’s stronghold might be loosened, think again” that you want to make multi-room? The Sonos Connect will do that for you. Only got speakers? Try the Connect: Amp. The family of Play:5, Play:3 and the Play:1 has the integrated speaker avenue covered at every size and budget, while the Playbar and Sub brings all of Sonos’s multi-room smarts to your home cinema setup.
Beauty in simplicity
Of course this wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound great, but it does. The new Play:5 proves itself a particular highlight, balancing power and authority with detail and expression,
but each member of the family sings with clarity and enthusiasm no matter the genre. There’s still no hi-res support, but Sonos isn’t ashamed to focus on the convenience streaming services deliver. A lot of the beauty of Sonos is in its simplicity – and, as it’s the world’s biggest-selling multi-room brand, it’s hard to argue with its logic. If you thought Sonos’ stronghold might be loosened by the recent focus on multi-room by many other brands, you’d better think again. Right now, Sonos looks pretty unshakeable.
£89 Black & £169 Red
Powerful, Immersive Sound from Computers and Mobile Devices! Four years ago, AudioQuest shook the hi-fi world with our first DragonFly DAC–Preamp–Headphone Amp—the rare audio product that brought more compelling sound to all music lovers, playing high-res files 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 offers more clarity, depth and category-defining value than ever before, the take-no-prisoners Red provides even more finesse, resolution, torque and more than enough power to drive even the most demanding headphones. The word is out: DigitalAudioReview.net’s John Darko calls DragonFly Red and Black “the finest examples of everyman hifi to ever grace these pages. Their value quotients explode the dial.” Let the joyful experience begin!
AWARDS 2016 BLU-RAY PLAYERS
BLU-RAY PLAYERS Streaming is all well and good but for visual – and aural – excellence these machines still hold sway. Especially now we have UHD…
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
You couldn’t really ask for a better way to introduce a new format
BEST 4K BLU-RAY PLAYER PANASONIC DMP-UB900 £600 Given the hyperbole surrounding the launch of UHD Blu-ray, you could be forgiven for expecting the first device on the market to look a little more futuristic. As it happens, the understated DMP-UB900 wouldn’t look out of place next to a ‘regular’ Blu-ray player. But that’s about the only disappointing thing about this Panasonic. Features at the front of the device – the disc tray, SD card slot and USB port – are hidden behind a neat flap, while round the back are a generous number of connections, including two-channel and 7.1-channel analogue audio, plus optical and coaxial outputs. But this isn’t about comparing specs – it’s about experiencing the huge leap in image quality that UHD Blu-ray offers, so we feed the Panasonic Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a film known for its stylised, saturated look, but this kicks it up a notch. UHD Blu-ray offers a more diverse and natural range of hues than we’ve seen on any display. Every burst of flame is a thrilling event. What before were flat clouds of orange take on wisps of yellow and red, with flecks of fiery embers burning at varying intensities. 66 www.whathifi.com
The DMP-UB900 is a fine-sounding device too, with a rich, weighty delivery. Sound effects are clearly and deliberately placed, and delivered with enough dynamism to grab your attention.
First – and foremost
It is not easy being the first of a new breed. Not only does the Panasonic DMP-UB900 need to perform well, it has to do so with the distinction required to thoroughly advertise a new format. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s mission accomplished. Given its lush colours, strong contrast and great definition and clarity, we really believe it’s no exaggeration to say the Panasonic DMP-UB900 shows us the future of home cinema: a magnificent picture with startling clarity, gorgeous colours, and contrast strong enough to fend off the challenge from online streaming. Not only does the Panasonic herald the dawn of a new technology, it delivers a devastating first blow to its rivals. By any standards, that makes it worthy of an Award.
BLU-RAY PLAYERS AWARDS 2016
BEST BLU-RAY PLAYER UNDER £200 SONY BDP-S6700 £150 Sony has become a near-permanent resident at the more-affordable end of our Blu-ray player Awards in recent years, and the BDP-S6700 continues that streak. It sits in the middle of Sony’s budget player line-up (the next one up is the 2015 Awardwinning BDP-S7200), but rather than furnish it with a long list of features or impressive specs,
“As strong as the S6700 is with colour, it shines with dark scenes too”
Sony has directed all its efforts towards delivering excellent core performance.
The S6700 wears its affordable price tag on its sleeve. Boxy, plasticky and almost alarmingly lightweight, its design is rather uninspiring. There’s no display, which is an understandable cost-saving move, but also one of the things we miss most on players at this price. But with a Blu-ray of Guardians Of The Galaxy, the Sony BDP-S6700 wastes no time in
showing us exactly where the money has been spent, producing a sharp, punchy picture that’s crystal-clear and free from noise. Textures on faces and clothing are faithfully reproduced, outlines are well etched, and the whole picture has a real sense of depth and believability thanks to the level of detail. Colours are vibrant too, without appearing overdone – as strong as the S6700 is with colour, it shines with dark scenes too. Shadow detail is excellent, and the way it portrays dark and light elements together without them affecting one another shows real talent.
As for its sound, the BDP-S6700 doesn’t do a bad job at all. Bass-heavy explosions are tackled with a surprising sense of confidence, while its fast and agile character delivers good organisation to soundtracks and shows a decent understanding of dynamics too. Sony proves once again that it knows how to play the budget market to a tee – by focusing on delivering an outstanding performance at a competitive price. The BDP-S6700’s performance belies its low price tag.
The box might not be much to look at but that’s far from true when it comes to the pictures it produces
BEST BLU-RAY PLAYER £200+ SONY UHP-H1 £400 Sony has taken last year’s Awardwinning BDP-S7200 and cranked it up so hard that it no longer fits in the usual BDP range of Blu-ray players. So we’ll call the Sony UHP-H1 a Blu-ray player – but not only is it a fully certified hi-res Blu-ray player, supporting DSD 5.6, WAV, AIFF, ALAC and AAC, it also handles Blu-ray, DVD, DVD Audio, CD, SACD – and even 3D. Designed with an emphasis on performance, the UHP-H1 has a high-rigidity frame-and-beam chassis, a top panel with honeycomb structure and an extra-rigid disc drive to minimise unwanted vibration.
Does it work? We can say the UHP-H1 is one of the best Sony Blu-ray players we’ve seen – high praise considering the countless Awards we’ve given Sony for its Blu-ray players in the past.
We stick on a Blu-ray of TT: Closer To The Edge and are greeted by the sort of energy we’ve
“Sony wanted to make a one-box offering that can juggle multiple tasks”
More multi-media player than simple Blu-ray machine, this one excels even by Sony’s high standards
grown to expect from Sony’s Blu-ray players. The sound is agile and full of power. As TT veteran Guy Martin tears down the sinuous track, we’re treated to strong dynamics and precise effects placement. Visually, it’s good news too. Colours are still neutral and convincing, but they’re also rich and attractive, stopping short of looking overly processed. It’s a natural performance, easy to watch without distraction.
Listen to the music
The UHP-H1’s music-only performance is very good for a Blu-ray player. It’s packed full of energy and agility, which makes for an engaging, entertaining listen. With the UHP-H1, Sony didn’t set out to make just a Blu-ray player. The company wanted to make a one-box offering that can juggle multiple tasks, and do so with relish. So, it wins an Award for a Blu-ray player, but that title doesn’t quite do it justice. This is one of the most talented multi-media players we’ve seen for the money. www.whathifi.com 67
AWARDS 2016 TELEVISIONS
The tech train steams on apace in telly land, with both 4K and HDR now featuring widely among our chosen few. And the view is terrific
Samsung crams a lot of technology in here and the result is a triumph
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST 47-52in TV SAMSUNG UE49KS8000 £1300
It’s a hat-trick for Samsung. Not only for winning three Awards in this year’s TV category, but also for bagging the coveted Product of the Year Award three years in a row. But we really shouldn’t be surprised: Samsung has consistently married superb picture quality with affordable prices in recent years. That said, the UE49KS8000 is nothing like the sets that have won this very Award in previous years. It’s not just an inch bigger that last year’s winner, it’s also got four times the pixels. That’s right – this is the first year in What Hi-Fi? history that an Ultra HD 4K set has won a Product of the Year Award. The talented 49KS8000 also supports HDR (High Dynamic Range), has all the smart features you can shake a stick at, and has a flat screen, not curved. The only thing it doesn’t have is 3D.
From cutting edge to polished mainstream
The 4K HDR resolution means the price is now north of £1000 (last year’s was closer to the £500 mark), but let’s not forget how quickly this cutting-edge picture technology has become mainstream and affordable. Fire up this 49in TV and you’ll immediately be glued to that crystalclear screen. The Quantum Dot display delivers an impressive level of brightness we wouldn’t usually expect from an edge-lit set. Its black depth doesn’t dig quite as deep as those pitch-black OLED screens, but that doesn’t stop it from being a compelling and exciting screen to watch. 68 www.whathifi.com
The burned-orange desert wasteland of Mad Max: Fury Road looks rich and vibrant in 4K Blu-ray, displayed with a stunning level of depth, nuance and intensity. Textures appear true to life, and skin-tones are wonderfully judged. 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.
Treading the line
Colours manage to tread that fine line between punch and believability – Samsung goes for broke to deliver the most arresting picture, but it has the maturity to keep the colour palette as realistic as possible here. 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 this Samsung has on board. This stylish, slim set keeps things neat by housing all its connections (including four HDMI inputs with HDCP 2.2 support) in a separate OneConnect box. The sleek Tizen interface has been streamlined as well, making it easier to launch apps such as Netflix, Amazon Video or BBC iPlayer without obstructing the screen. The Samsung UE49KS9000 TV squeezes a lot of tech into a sub-50in screen. If you’re after a high-end 4K upgrade for your modest-sized living room without breaking the bank, this stellar performer should be at the top of your list.
TELEVISIONS AWARDS 2016
BEST 32-39in TV SONY KDL-32WD603 £300 “If you’re looking for a good 32in TV on a budget, buy the Sony KDL-32WD603. It really is that simple.” Those were the first words on our review of this 32in Sony TV, and it remains true as it picks up this auspicious Award. The KDL-32WD603 isn’t a 4K telly. It’s not even Full HD. It’s HD Ready. That’s right, this decade-old resolution – these days a low-budget offering – hasn’t been seen in the pages of this magazine for quite a few issues now, but that’s changed thanks to this talented little Sony.
Of course, it won’t be as crisply focused as a (pricier) Full HD screen, but play The Imitation Game (on Blu-ray or DVD) and the picture is still clear and punchy, with an abundance of detail. Strands of hair are distinguishable, wrinkles on people’s faces look natural, and the textures of clothes are easily conveyed. It’s impressive stuff coming from such a modest screen. But it’s the solid black depth, and the accompanying intensity of anything bright against it, that earns the Sony its five stars and this Award. The interior scenes in Joss Whedon’s Firefly can easily look gloomy and a mess of shadows on lesser screens, but the Sony does a
great job of showing off the details of crates, ropes and the rusty metal textures of the ship. Whites are clean, and bright objects – lamps, flares, stars – have a believable intensity. Colours are beautifully balanced: blue skies look as believable as a well-worn red shirt and everything looks wonderfully natural. When it comes to sound, dialogue is clear and detailed, but a pair of desktop speakers or a budget soundbar will undeniably boost what is essentially a thin presentation. Sony hasn’t scrimped on features: Netflix and BBC iPlayer are the
may not be as visually exciting as LG’s WebOS, but it does one crucial thing right: it just works. It might seem odd to be lauding a 32in HD Ready TV with a shiny trophy when stunning giant 4K screens are all around us, but the Sony KDL-32WD603 delivers such a natural, detailed and well-balanced picture for its price that we think it fully deserves this Award. No fancy tech on offer here – just a really fine picture and great value
“The Sony does a great job of showing off the details of ropes and rusty metal” prime video apps (there’s no Amazon), and there are two HDMI inputs, two USB ports and an optical output available alongside wi-fi and ethernet. What warms us to this Sony TV is just how easy it is to use. The simple interface
BEST 40-46in TV PANASONIC TX-40DX600B £500 A 40in 4K screen for less than £500? Wow. The Panasonic TX-40DX600B may not be as flashy as bigger rivals, but this svelte screen strikes a fine balance between size, price and top tech. The TV landscape has been dominated by larger screens of late, but this Panasonic is easily the best 40in screen we’ve seen this year. Th h l the h Panasonic will ll There is one caveat: while aaccept 4K HDR content, it won’t b bl to be able
“This Panasonic is easily the best 40in screen we’ve seen this year”
display the HDR part of it. Does that affect the picture when watching 4K HDR Blu-rays such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian? A little bit. We find the normal Blu-ray of the film strikes a better balance between contrast and brightness over its 4K counterpart, and it ends up being a more satisfying watch. The Panasonic isn’t perfect – we’d like a b h brightness, b h d the h wow-factor w-factor of 4K brighter and d sn’t entirely doesn’t come across on h a small screen, such b the set’s good but nts far outweigh points our qualms. he 40DX600B The h a wonderfully has i p picture crisp hout being without rly sharp. You overly can pick out the dirt d grime on faces, and h rusty metal, the the ns of sand in grains M d Max – there’s Mad 4K resolution, great colour balance, a neat interface and decent sound – all for £500. Nice
plenty of detail here. Its Full HD performance isn’t far off its 4K prowess, which goes to show just how talented this screen’s scaler is. The Panasonic screen strikes just the right colour balance, too, which is more apparent when you’re watching sitcoms such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or old episodes of Top Gear in standard definition. They look impressively decent when upscaled to the 4K screen and there are no discernible motion issues when cars chase each other.
We like the sound of that
Another plus for this telly is its pleasantly full-bodied sound quality. Voices are solid and direct, and the overall presentation is warm and rather punchy. We love Panasonic’s Firefox OS interface: colourful, circular icons you can ‘pin’ to the home screen to launch apps quicker. It’s slick and straightforward to use. You also get a full complement of smart features, from Freeview Play to all of the UK’s catch-up TV apps. For those with limited space, a 40in screen such as this budget Panasonic is ideal. Add in great smart features, excellent picture and a satisfying sound, and you’ve got one of the best deals of the year. www.whathifi.com 69
AWARDS 2016 TELEVISIONS
BEST 52-60in TV UNDER £2000 SAMSUNG UE55KS7000 £1300 Sitting comfortably at the bottom of Samsung’s top-of-the-range SUHD line is the UE55KS7000. Bottom of the top tier. Far end of the VIP table. But in practical terms it means that this television is going to give you brilliant picture quality and high-tech features for a sensible price. The television is a Quantum Dot 4K set with HDR know-how, so there’s little doubt you’re going to get stunning visuals – but that level of Stunning visuals, yes, but there’s also an improved interface
quality is only reinforced by the 10-bit panel, peak brightness of 1000 nits and the BT.2020 colour space. It’s easy to use as well. Recent interface improvements mean the pop-up bar that houses all the apps and menus is now a lot more intuitive, thanks to a nicer layout and handy shortcuts. It’s much faster, too. The Smart remote control has also been redesigned. It has the usual problem of being a little on the simplistic side, but it is nicer to use than Samsung’s previous efforts. Usually when looking at a television in the shop, you’re more impressed by high saturation and sharpness – an artificial, etched quality rather than an image with the necessary refinement for everyday viewing.
“There’s enough definition here to count the individual raindrops on a windscreen” With the UE55KS7000, we are impressed by the TV’s subtlety. There’s enough definition here to count the individual raindrops on a windscreen, plus the clarity needed to make out the accompanying condensation.
In place of the solar brightness and abyssal blacks from televisions designed to showcase the extremes of the spectrum, you get fine increments of shade. Shadows offer different levels of murkiness, and you can quite easily make out the outer part of a shadow. For all its merits in the picture department, it also has a decent sound, with a good balance and solid weight. It never approaches the sort of hardness we’ve heard from many slim TVs. The UE55KS7000 certainly isn’t resting on any laurels, pushing as far as it can to get you a surprisingly high-quality image for the money. This is the sort of product other manufactures should look to as a benchmark.
BEST 52-60in TV £2000+ LG OLED55C6V OLE £2300 0 LG’s 4K OLED range was very much the talk of the TV town last year, and the company continues to flex its muscles in this department in 2016 with excellent results. This 55in set is part of the C6 series, just one up from the bottom of the range, with the inclusion of passive 3D here the only thing separating it from the entry-level B6 set. It is of course a 4K, 10-bit panel, which meets the UHD Premium standard thanks to its support for HDR10 among other things. Oh, and it’s a gently curved affair.
Lean as you like
This TV is clearly weight-conscious. The top half of its panel is among the slimmest we’ve seen – more like a smartphone than a TV – and even the protruding power pack at the bottom keeps things relatively slimline. It comes with WebOS 3.0 – the latest version of the best TV-software platform – installed. As
“Watching 4K content on this TV is a joy; there’s detail spilling from every pixel” 70 www.whathifi.com
slick and intuitive as ever, it continues to win our affections in this iteration with even greater focus on content discovery. One of the best things about OLED tech is its deep blacks, and they certainly look stunning here. The LG’s self-lighting pixels provide truly lights-out blacks that go as dark as a turned-off TV. Colour reproduction sits a little on the rich side of neutral, but there’s no denying that its full, lush hues are stunning – especially with HDR material. Watching 4K content on it is a joy – there’s detail spilling from every pixel and outlines are needle-sharp. LG’s meticulous depth perception does a great job of portraying landscapes with real believability too. Move down to Blu-ray, or even standard-def TV, and you won’t be disappointed. The picture is clean, detailed and
A beautifully minimal design plays host to a rich, lush colour palette
well-considered, with the set bending over backward to keep picture noise at bay. As for sound, LG’s partnership with Harman Kardon means the OLED55C6V sounds more full-bodied than its physique might suggest. This TV is not exactly cheap, but with it LG has made big-screen OLED more accessible than ever – and done so really, really well.
TELEVISIONS AWARDS 2016
BEST 65in TV UNDER £3000 SAMSUNG UE65KS9000 £2500 With OLED finally gathering traction, and getting cheaper too, Samsung has had a bit of a fight on its hands to justify its decision to stick with LCD in its top-range sets. What better way to silence any critics, then, than to deliver an LCD screen that’s as good as this? Like the rest of Samsung’s SUHD line up, it’s a 4K Quantum Dot screen that falls in line with the Ultra HD Premium specification by supporting HDR and reaching a peak brightness of 1000 nits – quite the feat for an edge-lit set.
line-up of catch-up and on-demand services, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Picture quality proves there’s plenty of life left in LCD yet, a 4K HDR stream of Amazon’s The It’s one in the eye for anyone who’s written off LCD technology
It’s also curved, with the addition this year of Ultra Black Moth Eye filter technology to help keep distracting reflections to a minimum. It looks every bit the high-end TV, with a ‘360-degree design’ so not only is the bezel all but gone from the front view, but you also won’t find a screw or port blemishing the back either. It runs on Samsung’s improved Tizen smart TV system, which is fasterloading than last year’s offering and better designed to boot. It offers a decent
Man In The High Castle confidently etched and brimming with subtlety. The value of HDR shows up in the picture’s nuanced shading, but more noticeably in its brightness. Neon lights in night scenes are radiant, as are explosions, which reveal eye-catching contrast. For an LCD set, the UE65KS9000’s blacks go impressively deep too, and there’s plenty of shadow detail too. Feed it a standard Blu-ray and the Samsung makes the gargantuan task of upscaling look easy. Apart from a slight loss in crispness and fine detail, it doesn’t feel like much of a comedown at all. The picture is stable across the board too, with no motion issues of note. Even the sound is reasonable, thanks to a 60W 4.1 channel set-up. While OLED has its benefits – and indeed there are a couple of sets in the 2016 Awards list – the UE65KS9000 is proof that LCD certainly isn’t dead.
“Samsung makes the gargantuan task of upscaling look easy”
BEST 65in TV £3000+ LG OLED65E6V £4600 At almost £5000, the 65E6V’s price tag is enough to make your eyes water. But look at it the right way, and LG’s high-end OLED set is actually kind-of a bargain. Ok, that might be pushing it a little, but when it offers exactly the same picture performance as
“LG’s WebOS smart platform is back and better than ever in its 3.0 guise”
Everything you’d hope for in a top-flight, big-screen television
the £1000 more expensive flagship G6 Signature model (which has just slightly better sound), you’ve got to think you’re getting a bit of deal, right? The LG OLED65E6V has a 4K OLED panel that supports both HDR and Dolby Vision, and qualifies for the Ultra HD Premium club too. Just a few millimetres thick at its slimmest part, it looks nothing short of gorgeous, with a slightly chunkier section along its bottom edge for connections and an integrated speaker system sitting between the panel and its centrally positioned base plate. WebOS, LG’s smart TV platform, is back here and better than ever in its new 3.0 guise. More evolution than revolution, it packs new intuitive content discovery features as well as all the big name on-demand services you could want. Fundamentally though, it’s picture performance that puts this LG 4K
OLED’s price into perspective. It’s one of the most detailed, insightful and, above all, accurate pictures we’ve seen. Try a 4K HDR disc of The Martian: the picture is staggeringly sharp and crisp, with punchy but realistic colours and the ability to pick out tone and nuance in highlights with expert precision.
Black is black
Blacks are as inkily deep as we’d expect from OLED too, with outstanding contrast peppering the pitch-black night sky with punchy twinkling stars. Viewing angles are top-notch too. Drop down to regular Blu-ray and the upscaler on the OLED65E6V will still do your collection proud, offering an excellent picture that’s on par with the best Full HD screens out there. High-def streams and broadcasts are squeaky-clean and stable, and even DVD hoarders needn’t worry – LG keeps picture noise to a minimum, producing a clean image that’s wholly watchable. At this price you’d expect a TV to be pretty good, and from aesthetics to sound quality to picture performance, the OLED65E6V absolutely delivers. If you have the budget to really push the boat out, this stunning screen will transform your living room. www.whathifi.com 71
AWARDS 2016 SPEAKER PACKAGES
SPEAKER PACKAGES Your living room needn’t look like your local multiplex to sound like it. This is about top-quality surround-sound – and your sofa
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
Warmth, depth and cohesion by the ton, plus a flair for music
BEST SPEAKER PACKAGE £1000-£2000 MONITOR AUDIO BRONZE B5 AV £1500 You don’t have to be Miss Marple to read the clues – we like this speaker package a lot, and back-to-back Product of the Year titles highlight that sentiment. The B5 AV system comprises the Bronze Centre, two Bronze FX surround speakers, Bronze W10 subwoofer and a pair of Bronze 5 floorstanding speakers for front channels. We play Taxi Driver on Blu-ray and are immediately struck by the film’s jazz accompaniment. Instruments are brilliantly organised and offered a generous amount of space in which to breathe, but most of all they are expressive and terrifically rhythmic. When Bernard Herrmann’s score is realised like this, it highlights Robert de Niro’s own improvisational delivery, giving purpose to the false starts and broken sentences. The sound dates the film as much as the flared trousers, but the B5 AV doesn’t hide behind that. Voices are clear, warm and expressive, there is depth to sounds such as the fizz of Travis’s Alka-Seltzer and real attack to the gunshots. This is a reasonably priced package, but that doesn’t stop it exploring the nuances of the dejection and loneliness the film portrays. 72 www.whathifi.com
The surround-sound field is cohesive, and there’s great tonal matching between the channels. They feel comfortably in control, without giving any impression of being restrained. Unsurprisingly, the results are much the same in stereo. We play LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver album and, though still using an A/V receiver and not a stereo amplifier, we remain impressed by the balance, dynamics and expressiveness that keep us hooked.
The power of the music
If you’re using this package for music as much as cinema, this may be where the depth and organisation of the Bronze 5 speakers trumps the Bronze 2-based alternative package most considerably. Monitor Audio’s decision to hand down superior driver technology to its Bronze range has raised the standard. This package delivers a sound that is bold and capable of great subtlety and dynamics. Spend a couple of hours with the Bronze B5 AV and this may be the easiest £1500 you’ll ever spend.
SPEAKER PACKAGES AWARDS 2016
BEST SPEAKER PACKAGE UNDER £1000 DALI ZENSOR 1 5.1 £980 This one needs no introduction, but deserves one nonetheless. The Dali Zensor 1 5.1 package is our reigning entry-level champion. It will take something spectacular to knock down these Danish warriors. In the package are two pairs of Dali Zensor 1 standmounters, former Award-winners in their own right. Accompanying them is the Zensor Vokal centre and E-9F subwoofer. Together they run like clockwork, giving the most stunningly entertaining sound this money can buy. It’s a fluid, dynamic performance that soars with excitement before easily dropping right
down for a bit of hush-hush. We put on a Blu-ray of Whiplash to watch JK Simmons torment a drumming Miles Teller. The Dalis have no problem shifting up from Teller’s tearful sniffing to Simmons’ seething barks. There is plenty of pop, to the extent that ‘lively’ really doesn’t quite cut it. It’s not all about the excitement, though. The Dalis are as articulate as they are expressive, and demonstrate great attention to detail. Dialogue is delivered with insight and there is as much subtle texture as you like, from the rustling of sheet music to the leading edges of a full orchestra. The Zensor 1 speakers were Award winners in their own right
Combine this level of nuance with strong, far-reaching dynamics and you have yourself a thoroughly invigorating listen. It also helps that the whole package is beautifully integrated – it’s a uniform presentation. Sound effects that travel across the room maintain a consistency of character. That includes the subwoofer, which is authoritative yet articulate. It’s fast, precise, and a seamless part of the ensemble.
Physically, what you get matches the quality of the performance. This is an attractive, well-built package. The speakers all use the same 25mm soft-dome tweeter and 13cm wood-fibre mid/ bass driver – the centre doubles up on this for extra authority and better dispersion. We have tremendous respect for the Dali Zensor 1 5.1 package. That it’s lasted this long is impressive, but it’s doubly admirable that it’s still at the top of the game.
“These Dalis give the most stunningly entertaining sound this money can buy”
BEST SPEAKER PACKAGE £2000+ ATC C1 5.1 £3250 Every now and then precedent counts for very little, if anything – listen to almost every great band’s third or fourth album. Thankfully for them, and our eardrums, ATC’s C1 surround speaker package does its distinguished family proud. The set-up comprises four ATC SCM7s, which are standmount monitors sporting 25mm soft-dome tweeters and a distinctive 12.5cm mid/bass driver, a C1C centre to match (with a pair of those mid-bass drivers), and the C1 subwoofer, boasting an impressive 31cm down-firing bass driver.
space. The sound is anything but boxed in, giving us a great sense of scale and distance in tune with what’s happening on our projector. The C1C centre is designed to complement the SCM7s you have spread around you. Even in the heat of battle, with a busy score and even busier list of domineering sound effects, their edges are never sharp nor smoothed. It’s a balance that has us forgetting to listen and just becoming lost in the film.
An integrated Empire Having let the speakers run in over a weekend, we play a Blu-ray of 300: Rise Of An Empire. Immediately we’re drawn to the speakers’ integration – thunder and flying arrows crack and sail behind us with exceptional detail while not bearing over the main action or dialogue. The ATCs have an impressively wide sense of
This ATC package proves a match for many more expensive rivals
Perhaps the most important asset for any centre speaker, though, given it will be handling much of any film’s dialogue, is dynamics. We could probably have picked a more difficult film for the C1C’s exam, given that the over-acting in 300 is rife almost to the point of secondaryschool theatre production, but nonetheless the level of expression is a delight. That subwoofer is just about light enough for a few of our team to lift alone without putting our backs out, but it 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, and the sub has little difficulty underlining the solid body of the rest of the package with authoritative weight. We suppose the highest praise we can offer ATC here is that it has provided a match for our considerably more expensive reference system. We can think of no better alternative for the money. A consummate triumph, to be sure.
“Thunder and flying arrows crack and sail behind us with exceptional detail” www.whathifi.com 73
ON-EAR HEADPHONES AWARDS 2016
ON-EAR HEADPHONES Whether you’re out and about or sprawled on the sofa, life can sound very sweet these days. And that’s regardless of your budget
The colourful Y50s mean you can stand out from the crowd - or there is black…
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST PORTABLE ON-EARS UNDER £100 AKG Y50 £50 Since they first appeared in 2014, the AKG Y50s have remained unmoved in their position as our Product of the Year. An inexpensive pair of headphones with an emphasis on portability and exceptional build quality, the Y50s are a product that has seemingly failed to make any sacrifices in its pursuit of quality. AKG should be praised for that. Our adoration for their boldly branded finish in yellow, teal or red hasn’t diminished at all over the years (those looking for a more discreet colour can opt for black instead). Those glossy aluminium earcups, each housing 40mm drivers, feel smooth, and everything from the durable headband to the firm-sitting earpads is adequately cushioned to ensure your comfort.
Welcome to the fold
Though a step up in size compared with many headphones in AKG’s on-ear line-up, the cups collapse inwards enough to be pocketed into a coat, manbag or handbag. The typical in-line remote for hands-free calling is present and correct too, adding an extra layer of usability.
We routinely grab the Y50s from the shelf for testing and it’s never a decision we regret. Sounding as cheerful as they look, they handle bouncing tracks such as Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk with enough rhythmic precision and punchy expression to capture the track’s irresistible toe-tapping musicality.
Open for business
The soundstage’s openness gives the eccentric mix of drums, synthesizers and horns enough space to work in, and everything inside is delivered with strict balance and class-leading dynamics. The bubbly vocals take centre stage with clarity and expression, while the bassy ‘do do’ hook lays bare the Y50s deep, tuneful low-end. We’d even go as far as to say that these are still the most transparent portable cans we’ve heard for the money – even the track’s subtler sounds (sporadic guitar and cymbals) manage to peep through the denser moments. Writing off these stylish AKGs as anything but performance-focused headphones would be criminally underplaying their talent, and it’s that talent that makes them keep their position as our favourites. www.whathifi.com 75
AWARDS 2016 ON-EAR HEADPHONES
BEST PORTABLE ON-EARS £100-£200 PHILIPS FIDELIO M1MK2 £120 Philips’ headphones are our winners this year as we move into the three-figure territory, and it’s as easy to see why today as it was when the company first won in 2014. The Fidelios’ discreet style and luxurious materials – mostly metal and leather – have always been impressive when you bear in mind their relatively low price. The M1Mk2s absolutely ooze quality in their design, colour range – white, all-black or black with smooth orange details – and their sound quality. Even without the noise-cancelling functionality of more expensive headphones, the comfortably snug fit of the M1Mk2s provides a few degrees of noise isolation, making them perfect for commuting.
There’s no hiding the Philips’ sense of fun in the sound department. There’s plenty of punch in the presentation and the dynamics are kept strong. A spin of System of a Down’s Radio/Video gives a terrific amount of texture, accessible even during the song’s more turbulent moments. The weighty bass is rich and well defined, making for an entertaining experience no matter what you’re listening to.
Discreet and luxurious: Philips employs quality materials to good effect
Leader of the pack
Factor in the abundance of detail you get from top to bottom, and it’s no surprise these headphones are still making all the running at this level. For the moment, we can’t see anything else that’s ready to overtake them.
BEST PORTABLE ON-EARS £200+ SENNHEISER MOMENTUM 2.0 £270 Timing, detail and insight: these 2.0 Momentums dig deep
We’re happy to see Sennheiser’s Momentum 2.0 headphones retain their title. They lavish you with great detail and insight, and the hinges on the side of the headband made them even more portable without a single sacrifice in quality. A quick play of The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition and the rolling guitar plucks shine through with clarity and nuance. Drum kicks and vocals have definition, as each element knits seamlessly together.
To thine own self be true
The sonic character is unmistakeably ‘Momentum’, as these headphones dig up impressive levels of detail and appear strikingly
confident, conveying the beginning and end of notes and phrases with brilliant precision. Timing is spot-on and there’s a fine balance of energy and finesse that never fails to grab your attention. Dynamics are fluid, and there’s a subtlety and a natural sense of cohesion that welcomes anything from Drake to Bach with open arms. When playing La Traviata, Act 1, the headphones convey the music’s beautiful ebb and flow – strings rise and fall dramatically as the Momentums show off their flexibility. There’s very little more to ask for from these headphones, as they’ve built on everything that we loved about the originals for an all-around great sound. They certainly live up to their name, as they meet our high standards once again.
BEST HOME ON-EARS UNDER £100 AKG K92 £50 In one of only two changes to our on-ear Awards list from 2015 to 2016, AKG has struck gold with its K92 headphones – and not just because of the colour scheme. When we put on Dave Grohl’s Sound City album of famous musicians singing together, the recording is given ample space to flourish. Whether you’re listening to Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney or Trent Reznor, the K92s are detailed and clear enough to show off the different styles of each artist. The slow build up in From Can To Can’t is tense and brooding, the K92s showing off a composed and mature sense of timing. The drums hit with a good amount of snap, and you can hear the layers of distortions on the guitars. 76 www.whathifi.com
The K92s have a great handle on rhythm, all the th instruments working cohesively and in time with each other. Voices are solid and nuanced; dips and soars are handled elegantly; strings have tension and detail; horns don’t sound harsh or bright; drums don’t boom. It’s not often we get to experience a pair of headphones that get everything right, but these do, and have earned their place on any head.
“AKG has struck gold with its K92 headphones – not just because of the colour”
Having such talent across the board is unusual at this price
ON-EAR HEADPHONES AWARDS 2016
BEST HOME ON-EARS £100-£200 AKG K550 £130
Five years at the top and still going strong. And, at this price, no wonder
Apparently, it’s going to take a lot of force to budge these humungous headphones from their prized position. This is the fifth year that the K550s have appeared in our Awards issue, and they remain the most covetable in their field – if home listening is your preference, you’ll understand what we mean. The enveloping coaster-size earcups and chunky headband are better suited to wearing while sinking into your favourite armchair than out among the public (where these sizeable headphones might well cause concussion to passers-by every time you turn your head). Airy and spacious in a way that’s beyond the majority of closed-back designs, the K550s are
sweetly communicative, handle tempos in a natural, unforced manner and deliver the drive and dynamics to make music sound rousing. Well defined and expertly balanced, they chase after every last detail to the song’s finish line and separate individual threads of the recording without giving up a sense of cohesion. As always, these headphones earn our recommendation – it’ll be difficult for anyone to find a better bargain.
“It’s going to take a lot to budge these headphones from their prized position”
BEST HOME ON-EARS £200-£400 GRADO SR325E £300 These Grados don’t leave their position in our pages and, preferably, don’t leave your house. While they have spectacular audio quality, these headphones leak sound like a damaged pipe leaks water, so they’re safer to keep inside if you want to avoid odd looks from nearby strangers. Serious hi-fi listening is what they’re designed for anyway. Their wonderfully open, transparent and melodious manner make longer listens a true delight, and they are equally good across a range of music genres.
A real delicacy
John Williams’ Somewhere In My Memory (Home Alone’s signature score) is a delicate
composition – a flurry of sprightly, dainty instruments – and the Grados treat it with a bree suitably light hand. Agile and fluent, they breeze through the varied orchestration without a hitch. Changing to some blues rock, every morsel of the rhythmic energy in Prince’s Purple Rain is brought to the forefront, with strict organisation and an analytical edge that keeps everything levelheaded. It’s a firm tick in the box for comfort, even if the Cyberman-like ‘ear bits’ won’t be winning any beauty pageants any time soon. But you can ignore all that. Put them on, plug them into your system and you’ll be treated to a performance that can’t be beaten at this price. And that’s what really matters.
They’re distinctive in more ways than one most importantly sound
BEST HOME ON-EARS £400+ BEYERDYNAMIC T1 (2ND GENERATION) £850 So good to hear real bass authority with no compromise on agility
Since most of the other headphones in this list have had a comfortable seat since 2015, there wasn’t an easy path for any manufacturer to make its way into our Awards issue. But Beyerdynamics’ second generation of its T1 headphones have made their entrance with an impressive combination of insight, fluid dynamics and rhythmic precision. And they’re comfortable to wear too. Playing Drake’s Headlines shows the T1s have the ability to entertain as well as inform. They charge along, pounding out the rhythm track with enthusiasm. There’s plenty of attack here and a solid dose of low-end authority. Importantly, that bass power isn’t bought at the expense of agility or precision.
Higher up the frequency range we’re impressed by the T1’s articulate way with vocals and the way they convey the dynamic nuances of Drake’s delivery. With this track the Beyerdynamics turn in a complete performance that’s almost impossible to pick holes in.
Make sure the stars align
To get this level of performance, everything from the original recording to the source and headphone amp have to be top class. But once you’ve set those links up perfectly it’s like watching the stars align. Arthur C Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and that’s just what these headphones sound like: magic. www.whathifi.com 77
STEREO AMPLIFIERS AWARDS 2016
STEREO AMPLIFIERS The stereo amplifier is evolving. Choose the right one and your hi-fi system will get an instant performance boost
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
For its entertaining listen, the Cambridge CXA60 retains its Award
BEST STEREO AMPLIFIER £300-£700 CAMBRIDGE CXA60 £500 Last year, Cambridge Audio’s mid-ranging CX Series arrived with a bang, and our affection for it hasn’t wavered – not least for the jewel in its crown: the CXA60. For a second year running, it remains the best value integrated stereo amplifier on the market. Its sleek, modern ‘floating chassis’ design and clean, uncluttered fascia makes a great first impression – not least with its simple, elegant display and satisfyingly smooth volume, balance and tonal dials – but it’s not just a pretty face. Actually, where the CXA60 excels is in its complete sound, high-resolution audio support and impressive set of connections. AptX Blutetooth is an optional upgrade by way of a £70 dongle, but going wireless isn’t necessary. A 24-bit/192kHz DAC supports native high-res playback across its two optical and single coaxial inputs, which join four line level inputs, a 3.5mm auxiliary input for plugging in MP3 players or smart devices and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Tautness keeps you hooked
There’s also scope to use the CXA60 as a preamplifier, and to plug in a subwoofer if you want to extend the low-end heft of its performance. Two speaker terminals mean you can biwire or run a second pair of speakers, though one is enough to hear how entertaining this amplifier is.
Fluid, snappy and packed with enthusiasm, it puts musical enjoyment high on its list of priorities without leaving detail, dynamics and rhythmic precision trailing behind – the amplifier skillfully handles complex arrangements and is capable of delivering subtle, accurate detail. Stream The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and that iconic bassline has the right amount of tautness to keep you hooked. The presentation is slightly forward, but the whine and crunch of the guitar riff sounds textured, while the ragged nature of Jack White’s voice is deftly conveyed.
The energetic performance doesn’t cross the line into unruly, overzealous territory, with the Cambridge exercising plenty of control over rhythms. Hans Zimmer’s compositions for Inception are appropriately brooding; the tension is maintained throughout courtesy of expressive slow-building dynamics, and plenty of low-end weight captures their somberness. Rival amplifier the Arcam FMJ A19 (£650), which the CXA60 knocked off top spot last year, digs a bit deeper and reveals a touch more subtlety – but the Cambridge remains a hugely entertaining and capable listen. Ergo, with a solid sound that manages to be both exciting and easy to listen to in equal measure, the CXA60 remains the most competitivelyfeatured package out there. www.whathifi.com 79
AWARDS 2016 STEREO AMPLIFIERS
BEST STEREO AMPLIFIER UNDER £300 ONKYO A-9010 £230 It doesn’t really matter that since the Onkyo A-9010 sat here last year it has joined Netflix, Apple and train tickets in having an incremental price hike (in this case, £30). It’s still an exceptionally good value stereo amplifier – a solid go-to for anyone nailing down their first hi-fi system on a tight budget – that nothing in the last twelve months, even a five-star Marantz newcomer, has been able to stop it in its tracks.
That has little to do with the build – on the surface, the Onkyo looks pretty ordinary with its functional, dial-heavy design. Nor even its connections, without digital-to-analogueconversion, the A-9010 is limited to line-level inputs, a moving magnet phono stage and 6.3mm headphone output. No, the Onkyo’s continued mastery of the budget stereo amp market has everything to do with performance. If you’re happy with an analogue-only amp, as we expect you will be at this price, you really can’t go wrong with the A-9010’s energetic and articulate sound. Play My Morning Jacket’s Compound Fracture and it goes headlong into the mesh of electrics, hitting hard with drum kicks and delivering a
The Onkyo is a versatile amp, ideally suited to being the nucleus of any midrange system sense of drive and attack well beyond what we would expect at this price. Add the Onkyo’s superb timing and strong dynamic expression and you have a very sonically versatile amplifier. At ease across musical genres, it has enough refinement and insight to deliver John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen convincingly. A decent amount of scale is on show, but it’s the way the amplifier deals with dynamic shifts that impresses us most.
A word before you jump in, though: pressing the Source Direct button bypasses the tone controls
and helps the amplifier sound that bit cleaner and crisper in the way it renders fine detail. Talented enough to outgrow the rest of your budget components, the A-9010, if not an amplifier for life, can at least continue to be the nucleus of your system as you transition from entry-level to midrange territory. A mighty fine purchase indeed.
“Onkyo’s mastery of the budget stereo amp market is down to performance”
BEST STEREO AMPLIFIER £700-£1000 REGA ELEX-R £900 If anyone knows that perseverance is the key to success, it’s Rega. Since the company’s Elex-R first won an Award in 2014, it has strong-armed wave after wave of competition to keep its title. Two years on, and here it is, once again expertly seeing off the opposition. By using the much admired Brio-R as a base, and adding circuit elements from the unquestionably talented Elicit-R (£1600) into the mix, Rega has created one of the most talented sub-£1000 amplifiers we’ve heard. Anyone familiar with Rega’s current amplifier range will find the Elex-R’s sonic character entirely familiar: fast, agile and as rhythmically surefooted as we’ve heard at this level. With Macklemore and Lewis’ Thrift Shop, it’s head,
maybe even shoulders, above its rivals when it comes to rendering rhythms. A combination of impressive timing, space and dynamics means that beat can be true allies of the backing vocals and a shaker, with nothing sounding remotely random or like the Rega is freewheeling.
Puts a spell on you
There’s an addictive sense of liveliness and energy, and it demonstrates authority and scale as if that’s its life purpose. It’s equally 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. Perseverance is key for the Rega Elex-R, back to claim another Award
Tonally, the Elex-R edges towards leanness, though if partnered with care – avoiding sources and speakers that err too far towards brightness – then all will be fine.
If all you want is a traditional stereo amplifier, the Rega remains on sure ground as we move away from sound. There are no digital inputs (Rega would no doubt direct you to its talented DAC for number-crunching duties), though you do get a good quality MM phono stage, four line-level inputs, one tape out and a single preamp output. The absence of a headphone output is a slight snag, and the functional-over-luxurious casework won’t turn many heads, but otherwise it’s above reproach. Despite the increasing number of very good rivals at this price, the Elex-R has more than enough talent across the board to continue to shine above its rivals.
“The Elex-R is as fast, agile and rhythmically surefooted as we’ve heard at this level” 80 www.whathifi.com
STEREO AMPLIFIERS AWARDS 2016
BEST STEREO AMPLIFIER £1000+ REGA ELICIT-R £1600 What do you call a better Elex-R? Why, the Elicit-R of course! Also a distant relative of the mid-ranging Brio-R, it further builds on the sonic strengths of the Elex-R and adds more sophistication in the design and remote control. Overall it stands out, for the third year running, as the best premium amplifier for the money.
Packing 105W per channel into 8 ohms (up from the Elex-R’s 72W per channel output), it’s not most powerful amp at this level, yet has plenty of horsepower for most rooms and set-ups – including ours.
What’s immediately attention grabbing, though, is its surefooted sense of timing: the agility and control it has over its rhythms is hugely impressive. Play The Cure’s Cut Here and like a true virtuoso the Rega provides the rhythmic stimulus and organisation to deliver the intricately woven patterns, which sound anarchic through lesser amplifiers, coherently and cohesively.
There’s impeccable detail and precision to the guitars and keyboards, and the beat that drives the track is lathered with energy. It’s particularly talented with vocals: Robert Smith sounds full of anguish as he delivers the pertinent lines. The amp has the dynamic expression to let the loud parts of Clint Mansell’s ambient Moon soundtrack sing out gloriously, with quieter moments still exhibiting plenty of detail.
“The Elicit-R again stands out as the best premium amplifier for the money”
The Rega Elicit-R builds on the sonic strengths of its sibling, the Elex-R
The Elicit-R, like its younger sibling, has a slight leanness and hint of brightness. It trades a little warmth and smoothness for transparency, but its priorities are hard to argue with considering how well it reveals a song’s intricacies. Vinyl lovers, rejoice; the same characteristics run through the talented moving-magnet phono stage. The phono input can be used as a fifth line-level at a flick of a switch, and on the back panel is also a tape loop, preamp output, a direct input into the power amp section, and two record outputs: one for recording, and another for feeding a line-level output to a headphone amp (there’s no headphone output of its own). Writing itself into the stereo amplifier history book, Rega reigns once more with a tremendous sounding premium amp. Rivals, get in line.
ru Engine room Amplifie
Your amplifier is the engine of your system: it accepts the signal from a source (CD player, record player, streamer, whatever) and boosts it to a level sufficient to drive speakers. Additionally, it allows you to regulate the volume at which you listen. When several sources are connected, you will want to switch between them – an amp will let you do that. Influencing the sound Some amplifiers incorporate tone controls, allowing you to influence the sound you hear. Audio purists
frown on such interference, but for many listeners it’s a must-have option. Opinion is similarly divided on the subject of remote controls: the circuitry needed by the remote might impact on the amplifier’s sound, but you can’t deny that controlling the volume from your sofa is a convenient bonus. With great power… How powerful an amplifier do you need? While it is true that more watts will give greater authority and the ability to drive a range of
speakers, don’t attach too much importance to the figure. Modern speakers are relatively efficient, so it’s better to have a quality amp with a modest output than a brute more about features than good sound.
Selecting the right amp isn’t all about the power output…
An amplifier is the engine of your system. It accepts signals from a source and boosts it to a sufficient level to drive speakers. But how powerful an amp do you need?
AWARDS 2016 PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS
PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS Even in the age of hi-res smartphones, there’s still a place for a dedicated portable music player
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
The A&K AK70 is an energetic, open and dynamic music player
BEST PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYER ASTELL & KERN AK70 £500 Aside from the cool blue-green colour (described by Astell & Kern as ‘misty mint’), the AK70 is pretty much your typical A&K music player: fantastic sound, good features and wonderful to use. The misty mint colour replaces the traditional safe silver finish of its predecessor (2015’s Product of the Year) the AK Jr, but otherwise the AK70 has a familiar appearance – a rectangular aluminium block with straight edges, sharp corners and a prominent volume dial. There has been a £100 price hike, but that’s more than justified. It still supports PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz (32-bit files are downsampled) and DSD 64/128, features a built-in microSD card slot to expand the 64GB of on-board storage by up to 200GB and has Bluetooth for streaming to headphones and wireless speakers. There’s wi-fi on board too for music streaming and software updates.
Bright and crisp
In a first for A&K, the AK70 can double up as a digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), so you can wave goodbye to poor-sounding headphone ports on laptops or smartphones. 82 www.whathifi.com
It also welcomes Android’s OS on board, and the familiar legible interface looks bright and crisp on its new 3.3in AMOLED touchscreen – the colourful album art of ELO’s Out Of The Blue leaps off the screen. On the same page as the AK Jr where ear-shattering volume and tonal character are concerned, the AK70 is energetic, open and dynamic. Gains in clarity, space and expression are as obvious as the colour change.
Play Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ This Year’s Girl (24-bit/192kHz), and there’s more texture around each drum strike as the AK70 kicks with 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 devices. The midrange opens up that bit more, so the lyrics aren’t swallowed up by the densely fluid instrumentation, instead savoured with that much more nuance. It’s a worthy alternative to a budget DAC too, and this feature alone proves a huge benefit. Combine that with further advances in features and usability, as well as evolutionary sonic improvements, and its lockdown not just of five stars, but also a Product of the Year accolade, is a given.
STREAMING SERVICES AWARDS 2016
STREAMING SERVICES Take charge of your own radio or TV station
PRODUCT O F
VIDEO STREAMING SERVICE
EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
NETFLIX FROM £6/month
Netflix just keeps getting better, making a more compelling case for your money at every turn. It’s everything you want from a video streaming service: simple to use, available on your preferred platform and filled with great content. Subscription starts at £6 per month for standard-definition streams to a single screen. Up your spend to £7.50 per month and get high-def stuff available to watch on a couple of screens. Or go the whole hog (provided you’ve already gone the entire pig on a 4K ultra high-def display) and spend £9 per month for 4K content on as many as four screens at a time. Whichever subcription you choose, Netflix streams at exactly the sort of quality you would expect. The 4K material is still necessarily limited, but something such as Better Call Saul on a 4K display is prodigiously detailed, vibrant and stable. And if 5.1 audio is available, Netflix will serve it up in the same manner as it does pictures: robustly and positively.
It goes without saying not all content is available in HD, let alone 4K, but one of the great pleasures of a Netflix subscription is happening upon nailed-on classics like The Odd Couple (1968) or Dr Strangelove (1964). Netflix has always been a fuss-free and stable streaming experience (provided your broadband is up to it, of course), and its compatibility is peerless. PCs and Macs, Google Chromecast, any smart TV worth its salt, games consoles, Blu-ray players from all the big brands, tablets and phones – no matter if they’re iOS, Android or even Windows – are all on the menu. Ergonomically, things could hardly be simpler. Aside from the TV app’s rather retrograde A-Z keyboard (rather than QWERTY) search function, it’s straightforward to browse, create a shortlist and enjoy the service’s recommendations. You can also establish multiple user profiles, including parental locks to prevent the kids stumbling onto World War Z or similar. Quality, compatibility – and a social conscience. We’re sold.
MUSIC STREAMING SERVICE TIDAL FROM £10/month What do we want from a streaming service? Ease of use, certainly – an ergonomic experience that’s stable and consistent across any and all platforms. An extensive catalogue, of all genres and from all eras of recorded music. Thoughtfully curated playlists based on our musical preferences, extensive biogs of artists and authoritative overviews of individual albums. A big selection of high-def music videos, interviews and magazine-style features wouldn’t do any harm either. But most of all, we want sound quality that’s a decisive cut above the compression-fests served up by the likes of Apple Music or Spotify. And we don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it. That’s why Tidal remains our audio streaming service of choice. Pony up £20 per month and get all of the above – it’s money very well spent.
£10 a month buys a fine product – but for double that you get top sound quality www.whathifi.com 83
AWARDS 2016 ACCESSORIES
ACCESSORIES They might be seen as the supporting cast, but these extras can make or break your system’s performance
New look, same great ability to be balanced, neutral and engaging
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST SPEAKER CABLE CHORD CLEARWAY £10/m Chord’s Clearway wins our Accessory Product of the Year title for the second year running, and deservedly so. Every system, whether stereo or home cinema, needs speaker cables to work. And, while not cheap, this is a top quality cable that will work well with most of the systems in this magazine and is good enough to let them shine. The big change for this year is a new colour – the shiny silver finish of last year’s Clearway giving way to a less showy white. The rest of the cable stays the same and that’s no bad thing.
Let’s twist again
The heart of this Chord is a twisted pair of high-purity multi-strand copper conductors. They’re twisted to reduce the effect of external electrical interference and insulated with FEP, a kind of polymer. It doesn’t stop there, though. A layer of soft PVC, chosen for its flexibility, is wrapped around the conductor core to give it protection, then covered by two layers of foil for electrical shielding. 84 www.whathifi.com
Nodding off yet? If all that technical stuff was as interesting as watching grass grow, all you need to know is that this Chord cable works brilliantly and your system will sound better with it plumbed in than with any similarly priced alternative. Things sound nicely balanced with the Chord in our reference set-up. The system’s tonality is neutral without sounding overly clinical in any way. We’re engrossed by the beauty of Debussy’s Clair De Lune, and struck by the recording’s subtle yet forceful dynamics. We love the way the set-up handles the nuances of timing, and the way the music just flows without the mechanics of hi-fi intruding on our thoughts. This year we tried a whole range of rivals from the likes of QED, Kimber and Ecosse among others. The most impressive of these, in performance per pound terms, was the QED XT40, but that cable lacks the cohesion and dynamic thrust that makes the Chord so likeable. That’s why we rate the Chord – it’s a well-balanced proposition. The price, while not budget, is still sensible, and wherever we use it, the system just works well. If you’re looking for some quality speaker cable, start here.
ACCESSORIES AWARDS 2016
BEST ANALOGUE INTERCONNECT CHORD C-LINE £45/m Cohesive and musical, Co th C-Line C the is also very te h i ll advanced d d technically
Chord picks up the interconnect Award too. Like the Clearway speaker cable, the C-Line interconnect holds on to its title for a second year. Despite a modest price – in Chord terms, at least – the C-Line still uses the same Tuned-ARAY technology first introduced in the company’s high-end products. Multi-strand copper is employed for the conductors and, as with the speaker cable, foil shielding is used to reduce any intrusion by high-frequency interference. Once the C-Line is plumbed into our reference system we hear a cohesive and musical sound, one that delivers drive and drama effectively while keeping the tonal balance and refinement convincing. Move up in price and you’ll find interconnects with more transparency but, judged on value for money, we haven’t heard a better alternative.
BEST PHONO STAGE REGA FONO MM MK2 £200 Still way ahead of the pack – but make sure your deck is up to it
Our favourite phonostage remains Rega’s Fono MM Mk2. This is the fourth year this compact unit has picked up this Award, and nothing else we’ve tried has come close to upsetting things.
The Fono MM Mk2 is supremely talented, delivering a combination of dynamics, punch and finesse that no rival can match. Just make sure your turntable is up to the mark – even this Rega won’t make a poor deck sound great. It’s easy to use too. There are no additional adjustments; just plug in your player and use a decent set of interconnects – the Chord C-Line, perhaps (see left) – to connect to your amplifier, and off you go. As far as affordable phonostages go, the Fono MM Mk2 remains king.
BEST SPEAKER STAND
BEST EQUIPMENT RACK
ATACAMA MOSECO 6 £120
ATACAMA EVOQUE ECO 60-40SE £525
Well built, stable stands d hi that let speakers shine. go d And they look good
The Eco elegantly nails the key requirements of rigidity and isolation We never cease to be amazed at the difference a quality pair of speaker stands can make. No matter how talented your standmount speakers are, you won’t hear their full potential until you use good dedicated supports. We think that for most speakers below the £700 mark that support should be Atacama’s Moseco 6.
Any speaker will do
Over the past year we’ve used these with a whole range of speakers, from budget boxes such as Mission’s LX-2s all the way up to ATC’s SCM 11s, and they’ve always performed well. Given such a firm, well-behaved anchor, the speakers invariably deliver stronger dynamics coupled to copious insight. On paper, £120 might seem excessive, but the result is worth it.
Atacama takes the equipment rack Award yet again. Everything we liked about the Evoque has remained unchanged: it’s sensibly priced and modular so it can grow with your system. It’s well finished too, and looks smart in most environments thanks to a design that sits comfortably alongside both the modern and the traditional. But, most of all, it allows your kit to perform at its best. How? All kit is sensitive to the quality of its support. The platform needs to be rigid enough to allow the kit to work properly but also capable of providing a degree of isolation from the environment. Atacama’s Evoque manages all this in a smart, easy-to-assemble package. Provided your kit is transparent enough to show the changes, we think you’ll be surprised just how much difference a quality support makes. www.whathifi.com 85
AWARDS 2016 CD PLAYERS
Sales of CDs may be on the decline, but the CD player continues to adapt to the latest hi-fi trends – and these two winners show there’s plenty of life left in the format For its rhythmic ability and entertaining listen, Cyrus’s CDi wins again
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST CD PLAYER £500+ CYRUS CDi £995 For as long as we care to remember, Cyrus has hardly put a foot wrong with its CD players – in fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say its track record has been phenomenal. So it was something of a surprise when it was pipped to the 2013 Award by Naim’s superb CD5si. Cyrus responded in the best way possible with the CDi, which regained the Award in 2014 and held onto it in 2015.
The CDi shares similar features to Cyrus’s latest CD transport, the CD Xt Signature. It has a slot disc loader, a more stable clock and the latest version of its customary Servo Evolution disc-reading engine, which relies more on reading the data correctly the first time than on error correction to colour in the blanks. Cyrus claims that the CDi is its best-sounding CD player yet, and even after a short listen we are convinced of the scale of the achievement here. We play Hans Zimmer’s Dream Is Collapsing from the Inception soundtrack 86 www.whathifi.com
and are struck by the CDi’s uniform, articulate and intuitive presentation. It’s something we’d expect from a much more expensive player. Each layer of the composition is precisely unpeeled, and each instrument passed through the mix with coherent flow. But it’s the rhythmic talent that really raises our eyebrows. Pace and momentum are delivered vibrantly, and we are entertained and compelled by the Cyrus’s dynamic agility and neutral balance. Though fast and fluid, the sound is much weightier than any of the company’s previous models.
A hat-trick of honours
We’re hugely impressed with the CDi and are confident you won’t find a more entertaining, more revealing player until you near the £1500 mark. For its dynamic expression, rhythmic ability and, above all, the entertaining listen, the CDi holds on to its Award. A third consecutive win is no less than this special player deserves.
CD PLAYERS AWARDS 2016
BEST CD PLAYER UNDER £500 MARANTZ CD6006 £400 At no point has it ever been broken, but Marantz has gone ahead and fixed its 6000-series CD player regardless. The CD6006 has undergone numerous changes from the 2015 Award-winning CD6005, but despite a significant price hike from the outgoing machine’s £330, Marantz retains the same Award we bestowed upon its predecessor.
At first glance, the changes aren’t immediately obvious. The chassis dimensions and fascia layout retain the familiar look of a 6000-series
CD player, with a central tray-loading mechanism, bright and legible display, USB socket and 6.3mm headphone output with gain control. Around the back are the bare essentials: stereo analogue output along with digital optical and coaxial outputs for bypassing the 6006’s DAC and using it purely as a transport. However, we’d make the most of the hi-res (24-bit/192kHz) Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC. It’s capable of dealing with better-than-CD-quality digital files and can be accessed via the USB input. Put some hi-res WAV files on a USB stick, and the 6006 becomes a hi-res audio player.
Pop Burial’s Untrue into the disc-tray and the 6006’s sound is instantly familiar. It’s a robust, full-figured delivery, giving the low end real weight and presence. There is a slight lack of absolute authority, as the bass threatens to run away with itself on occasion, but overall this a good player for those who like a ballsy bass-line.
A calmly superior sound
Lower the temperature with Ólafur Arnalds’ Found Songs and the Marantz is unflustered, dealing 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. It doesn’t get carried away or overexcited, but the CD6006 is a superior disc-player to its predecessor. Raising the price was a risky move, but in the case of the CD6006 it has paid off – and Marantz’s mastery of the affordable CD player market shows no sign of abating.
“Marantz’s mastery of the affordable CD player shows no sign of abating”
It looks like a typical 6000-series Marantz, but the CD6006 is a superior disc-player to its predecessor
yer How to buy... A CD pla
CD remains r the main music source for many, and for them will continue to be important for years to come. Here are a few tips on buying the right player. The basics CD players are pretty simple. They respond well to a decent equipment support and like to be placed on a level surface. The majority have digital outputs (1), so if you want to upgrade their performance (particularly for older players) an
o C is an option.. outboard DAC If you already have a DAC in your system, then you don’t need an integrated player. A dedicated transport, such as the Cyrus CD t, will do the job. On most machines there’s a choice of analogue outputs. Standard RCAs are the norm (3), but higher-end players may have a balanced XLR option (2), which sometimes sounds better. Ensure your amplifier can accept a balanced signal before you buy.
S i System matching Turntables, or cartridges specifically, need a lot of pampering for optimum performance. CD players are far less fussy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care in terms of sonic character, though. Every bit of a system should pull in the same direction if you want optimal results. A fast, dynamic CD player is wasted if the partnering amplifier majors on a soft, smooth sound.
H ii How to audition Take along a variety of discs to the dealer demo. Make sure you try all sorts of music, and that the player copes with everything you throw at it. If you have a lot of CD-Rs, make sure they work – there can often be incompatibilities between recorders and players, particularly with discs recorded on PC drives. Also, it’s worth having a listen to how noisy the transport mechanism is. Some are loud enough to spoil quiet music.
AWARDS 2016 WIRELESS SPEAKERS
WIRELESS SPEAKERS A wide-ranging category with seven different Awards from portable to mains-powered
PRODUCT O F
The Dali Katch is a comprehensive winner of the 2016 Award
EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST PORTABLE £200+ DALI KATCH £330 Rarely is an Award winner so soundly beaten. Perhaps we ought expect it in the realm of wireless speakers, where changeover of power is more regular than in Second World War Europe, but still it took us by surprise once we’d heard the KEF Muo take on the Dali Katch.
We connect a Mac to the Katch via Bluetooth, which is easily found and connects automatically each subsequent time both devices are powered on, and load up Tidal to play Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress. We are taken aback with each bar of the drum kit’s crescendo that starts the album on Peasantry, not only because the Katch defies 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 does arrive, 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, digging deep into the soil of wails and drones that tail off each phrase, and the size of the sound is quite simply incredible for something of the Katch’s stature. 88 www.whathifi.com
“The size of the sound is simply incredible for something of the Katch’s stature” There are further adventures in detail and dynamics with the record’s second track, Lambs’ Breath. Just shy of 10 minutes, and composed entirely of unsettling drones, it’s not an easy listen.
Turning the tide
Often we might consider it harsh for a portable wireless speaker, even one costing this much, to be set such a task – they’re really just for spitting out EDM at parties, no? But the Katch is fantastically aware of the subtleties of each sustain, proving its versatility to go big on the first track and now analysing the slowly moving tides of this. Let’s not get carried away – you won’t be replacing your entire hi-fi with this one speaker. But you may decide to clear your bookshelves and find it a permanent home. Dali has improved on pretty much every aspect of last year’s standard. It isn’t cheap, no, but this is a case of getting what you pay for.
WIRELESS SPEAKERS AWARDS 2016
BEST PORTABLE UNDER £100 UE ROLL 2 £80 Upon hearing the Award-winning Ultimate Ears Roll a year ago, we predicted it unlikely to be knocked from its perch anytime soon. We are pleased to report how wrong we were. The UE Roll 2 is another notch in the US company’s belt. At first glance you may be left wondering what has changed to warrant a brand-new model – externally, the Roll 2 looks the same. It’s a tiny flying saucer of a speaker, with large volume icons, an ultra-portable build and funky design.
The Roll 2 stays true to its predecessor’s character, however, only now the sound is more open, dynamic and solid. There’s more detail too, avoiding the sub-£100 wireless speaker trend of overemphasising bass but still adding more weight. Play Lenny Kravitz’s Frankenstein and the drums hit with a heft that wasn’t there before. The Roll 2 stays true to its predecessor’s character
There’s a solid thwack, with a good deal of attack driving the funky tune. It’s surprisingly well organised for a speaker of its compact size and price. Each instrument is distinct and given its due: the guitar twangs and whines, the saxophone fluidly meanders through the song but doesn’t sound too sharp when it hits the high notes, and the bassline is satisfyingly solid without sounding tubby.
Better value for money
What’s even more impressive is just how controlled the snappy rhythm is. It’s fast, it’s punctual and yet it never sounds like it’s trying too hard to be precise. The UE Roll 2 is also much more conscious of the shifting dynamics in a song. The Roll 2 shows just how much UE got right the first time round, with so many features hiding in that tiny design. Keeping the distinctive look unchanged was a good move, while the improvements in sound and the drop in price make it even better value for money than before. If you’re after a compact, portable speaker that sounds great and is genuinely fun to use, we can’t recommend the Roll 2 highly enough.
So what’s new? For a start, the Roll 2 goes 15 per cent louder, has a greater Bluetooth range of around 100ft (depending on the environment, of course) and is cheaper than its predecessor – the new UE speaker costs £80, down from £100 for the original.
“It’s surprisingly well organised for a speaker of its compact size and price”
BEST PORTABLE £100-200 AUDIO PRO ADDON T3 £165 giving it a more complex and natural feel than you may have imagined possible in a product such as this – and that texture remains unconfused even as it is treated with delay.
No longer our Product of the Year, but we still admire the Addon T3
So enamoured of the Audio Pro Addon T3 were we last year that we awarded it a Product of the Year Award. And, though it relinquishes that particular title, we are no less taken with it a year on. In the drum kit of Bauhaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead – the unmistakeable kick, hi-hat and snare-rim rhythm with which the piece starts – you hear the size of the room immediately,
As the song grows, first with bass and then guitar, you notice not only the depth of the frequency range but its agility and respect for its surroundings. The low end made feasible by that larger than normal chassis doesn’t dominate. Instead it does what it should, offering stability when the vocals begin. And that is where the upgrade on something such as the Ultimate Ears Roll 2 – a humdinger at £80 – is justified. Sure, the Addon T3 is ideal for the garden or poolside, but you’ll
“The T3 focuses on making the instruments sound as wholesome as possible”
be sufficiently engaged by its level of expression to listen for longer periods. It won’t replace your hi-fi system, but it is comfortable and more communicative than the average budget wireless speaker. Rachmaninov’s Concerto No2 in C Minor will lack its required gravitas on any sub-£250 wireless speaker, but the T3 stays within its comfort zone. That’s not a negative – it doesn’t overstretch itself and instead focuses on what it does well, making instruments sound as wholesome as possible without sacrificing organisation or range. It is more than listenable, and we get through all three movements – longer than half an hour – without fidgeting.
A real Beastie
If it can play that, it can play anything. And it does, from Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic to Prince Fatty and Horseman’s take on Insane In The Brain, that level of expression makes fun, well, fun. It’s bouncy, full of attack and not slowed at all by the extra bass weight. You’ll need to double your cash if you want something to fit in your pencil case and sound this good, though we’re pretty sure you’ll choose to take the T3 with you when you hear what £165 can buy. Splendid. www.whathifi.com 89
AWARDS 2016 WIRELESS SPEAKERS
BEST MAINS-POWERED UNDER £200 It has fewer features, but the S150 beats its S200 sibling for performance
MONITOR AUDIO AIRSTREAM S150 £150 We had considered dispensing with a mains-powered wireless speaker Award at this price, but upon digging the Monitor Audio Airstream S150 from our stockroom, we remembered instantly why we were so impressed with it last year.
What’s the catch?
From the outside, the S150 looks like a carbon copy of its sibling, the Airstream S200, from which it stole the Award last year. The drive units and internal amplification are all virtually identical too. There’s a 20mm tweeter flanked by two 75mm mid/bass drivers behind the fabric-covered grille. They sit on an angled baffle to help disperse sound. And yet, the S150 is £50 cheaper than its stablemate. So what’s the catch? The S200 was blessed with features such as AirPlay and DLNA streaming, but both of these have been stripped out of the S150, leaving you with only Bluetooth for your streaming fix.
“Stripping out features has robbed the S150 of none of its musicality”
So has stripping out features robbed the Monitor Audio of any of its musicality? Quite the opposite. The S150 sounds more robust and confident. You get the same impressive clarity and openness provided by the S200, but music is delivered with extra solidity and conviction. At high volumes, the S150 remains composed and well behaved throughout the frequencies. You should have no trouble filling small- to medium-sized rooms. By the same token, the speaker works equally well at low volumes. It still picks out loads of detail, and manages to communicate dynamic shifts even when you’re using it for background listening.
The right balance
Percussion sounds agile and lively, and the vocals sit in plenty of space, but don’t feel detached – tracks unfold around them. As well as punch, the speaker handles the sparkling highs confidently. There’s no harshness or brightness to speak of, but neither does it sound safe or rolled-off. This balance is no mean feat in a budget wireless speaker. If you can live without the few extra features on its more expensive sibling, you’d be crazy not to audition the S150. It’s more affordable and, in our opinion, sounds even better.
BEST MAINS-POWERED £200-500 GENEVA AEROSPHÈRE SMALL £320
The AeroSphère Small does an impression of a much larger speaker
No, you aren’t seeing double, this is the smaller sibling of the also-Awardwinning Geneva AeroSphère Large. In fact, with right perspective, it’s nigh-on impossible to tell the difference. 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 also an analogue connection thanks to a 3.5mm jack. If you want to mix and match, purchasing the AeroSphère Base (£450) will, as well as adding radio and a CD player, allow you to link up to four Geneva speakers to play at the same time.
But where the AeroSphère Large boasts two 25mm tweeters, two 10cm mid/bass drivers and an up-firing 15cm subwoofer powered by five Class D digital amplifiers, the Small downscales that to one tweeter and mid/bass driver, powered by a pair of amplifiers. We said about Geneva senior that we wanted to spread our arms and wrap them around its bulbous head, yet, as we play 90 www.whathifi.com
Grimes’s Art Angels, it’s as if the AeroSphère has its limbs outstretched to welcome us with those familiar, rich tones. The sound is slighter, but the general characteristics are the same. The kick on tracks such as California is thick and driving, giving these sun-drenched alt-pop gems the impetus to make us move. That has a lot to do with timing as well – the AeroSphères aren’t exactly light-footed, with lots of low end giving the impression of a much larger speaker, but both are capable of keeping the tempo.
Take it down a few notches with the acapella soundtrack for Swiss Army Man and Geneva proves its ability to create speakers that both make you want to dance and have the nuance to express luscious and dynamic soundscapes. The swells wash over us with a combination of wholesome warmth and delicate expression. It’s an impressive performance by a speaker with so many rivals in this area of the market.
“The AeroSphère stretches out its limbs and welcomes us with familiar, rich tones”
WIRELESS SPEAKERS AWARDS 2016
BEST MAINS-POWERED £500-800 GENEVA AEROSPHÈRE LARGE £650 The AeroSphère Large is very much the bigger brother of our previous Award winner, and our admiration of its abilities certainly hasn’t waned over the past 12 months. At 40cm tall and wide, it’s not going to play the part of the unassuming kitchen speaker or bedside clock radio. The AeroSphère demands space to really show what it’s capable of – and it absolutely deserves it.
Feeding each staccato note with decent attack, it also appears to have more space to work in. Over six-and-a-bit minutes, we hear the kind of dynamics, balance and organisation we wouldn’t have even dared expect from a wireless speaker at this price not so very long ago.
Raiding the library
At £650, this isn’t a penny pincher’s choice, so we throw the AeroSphère in at the deep end with the second movement of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No1 in B-flat Minor as played by Daniil Trifonov and the Mariinsky Orchestra. And we are impressed. The pizzicato strings opening the movement are rhythmically spritely and set in open space soon shared by woodwind, brass and, of course,
“We wouldn’t have dared expect this from a wireless speaker not so long ago”
Large by name… but with that size comes impressive musicality
piano. There is more insight into each instrument than you might expect from a product like this, and a dynamic understanding that lets each part sing. As the texture builds, the AeroSphère certainly doesn’t seem to be in awe of the complexities of the multi-layered piece.
There’s stacks of space to its presentation too, which makes mincemeat of tricky dynamic shifts and dramatic orchestral sweeps – plus there’s real scale here. This speaker sounds big at normal listening levels, but push it loud and it will fill the biggest of rooms without ever sounding stretched. Its rumbling muscularity doesn’t stop the treble from shining either, with a smooth open performance that remains controlled and clear even at higher volumes. We continue raiding our music library, trying out everything from Frank Sinatra to FKA twigs. We tell ourselves we’re testing the speaker’s versatility, but in reality we’re simply enjoying listening to the AeroSphère Large – and that’s surely the real sign of a truly great, and now Award-winning, speaker.
BEST MAINS-POWERED £800+ NAIM MU-SO £895 Had you not been paying attention, you could be forgiven for thinking the Naim Mu-so was a brand new product. It looks and sounds as groundbreaking as it did a few years ago. There’s little this Mu-so can’t do. Naim has included nearly every streaming method into the mix – there’s aptX Bluetooth, AirPlay, UPnP, Spotify Connect and internet radio on board. The Naim supports all popular audio formats, from lo-res MP3s and Spotify streams to 24-bit/192kHz WAV, FLAC and AIFF files. You get full-fat high resolution audio through the wired ethernet connection, while going wireless limits it to 48kHz.
The power behind the Mu-so’s sound is astonishing. It drives all songs with a surefooted sense of rhythm, rich detail and lashings of deep, rumbling bass we’ve never heard from a wireless speaker before. The scale of sound is huge. It easily fills our large listening room with its soaring dynamics, the soundfield is as wide as it is tall and deep, charging through songs with boundless energy
The Naim Mu-so looks as groundbreaking as it did a few years ago
“There are no sharp edges to the Mu-so’s sound. Taut basslines are full of texture” and enthusiasm. Notes stop and start with foot-tapping precision, instruments are accurately and cohesively laid out, and silences between notes have intensity. A demanding track such as Time from the Inception soundtrack shows off the Mu-so’s dynamic prowess – the build-up is palpably tense. There’s a stunning level of subtle detail. Play a hi-res track such as REM’s Losing My Religion (24-bit/192kHz) and the Mu-so shows off the benefits of extra resolution. Every guitar strum is tangible, drums hit with satisfying
impact and Michael Stipe’s vocals are intimate. High notes are crisp, open and have just the right amount of bite. There are no undue sharp edges to the Mu-so’s sound, and taut basslines are controlled and full of texture.
This wireless speaker’s performance lives up to the spec-sheet hype – it looks stunning, and that powerful and subtle sound is as close as we’ve heard to hi-fi from an all-in-one unit such as this. It’s more than worthy of a front-and-centre position in your listening room. www.whathifi.com 91
AWARDS 2016 TABLETS
Not just for games or social media, the versatile tablet can be the centre of your hi-fi system
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
The Apple iPad Air is a masterclass in how a tablet should perform
BEST TABLET APPLE iPAD AIR 2 FROM £380 When it comes to the long-raging Apple versus Android debate, most people sit firmly on one side of the fence or the other. So naturally, how you feel about the winner of this Award will depend on which side you’ve pitched your seat. But the indisputable fact is, when it comes to providing the best tablet experience on the market, the Apple iPad Air 2 still delivers the most convincing argument across the board – and two years on from its launch, it’s now better value than ever.
Not only is the iPad Air 2 cheaper than before, but Apple has finally ditched the stingy 16GB entry-level memory and doubled it to 32GB. A welcome, if long overdue, move. Still need more? Power users no longer get stung either, though you do have to shell out an extra £90 to quadruple your storage to 128GB. There’s been some competition this year, of course, and none more so than from Apple’s own stable. The iPad Pro 9.7in is a superb tablet that offers a great picture, better speakers and more power under the hood – but when it comes to balancing price and performance, the Air 2 wins out against its pricier sibling. The build quality on the Air 2 is as good as ever, with a slim and light metallic finish that looks gorgeous and feels great to hold. It runs on Apple’s A8X processor, and although that isn’t Apple’s newest chip 92 www.whathifi.com
(that’s saved for the Pro family), you wouldn’t really notice. It can still handle anything you throw at it without a second thought. Swipes and taps are super-responsive, multi-tasking is handled seamlessly, and even the most graphic-intensive games are superbly rendered. It’s almost as though Apple is giving a masterclass in how smooth a tablet’s performance should be. The pin-sharp 2048 x 1536 pixel, 9.7in display is the perfect screen for watching movies on too. It has a perfect combination of rich-butaccurate colour reproduction, deep blacks, plenty of detail and excellent contrast. Its Android competitors just don’t come close.
As for its audio performance, the Air 2 remains one of the best sounding tablets on the market. It’s an exciting listen, crisp and precise, with real drive and dynamism behind every track. Vocals are direct and expressive, and there’s plenty of punch and enthusiasm to its character. It’s not capable of playing hi-res music, but with a standard-resolution performance this good we can’t say we missed it. Add into the mix two good cameras that will do your snaps and selfies justice, an ever-improving operating system and the best selection of apps available, and you’ve got a tablet that ticks just about every box going. For this reason, the Apple iPad Air 2 has retained the Award it won last year. Even the most ardent Android fan would find it hard to disagree with that.
SET-TOP BOXES AWARDS 2016
SET-TOP BOXES The Personal Video Recorder (PVR) or set-top box has revolutionised the way we watch TV
Sky Q offers the best advert for 4K television – and is the future of TV
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST SUBSCRIPTION BOX SKY Q £VARIOUS
A revolution in TV. That was the Sky Q promise, and it delivers. The whole way in which we watch TV shows and films has changed dramatically over the past few years thanks to phones, tablets and streaming video, and Sky Q repositions the company’s TV offering to take complete advantage of that. Access to all of your content, whenever and wherever you want to watch it, means Sky is no longer locked to your set-top box and your TV.
The future of TV
The package is built around the Sky Q Silver box, which essentially works as a hub for up to two separate Sky Q Mini boxes and two other devices simultaneously. In so doing, it delivers Sky’s ‘fluid viewing’ promise. Sky has redesigned both the hardware and the software for Sky Q to great effect, making for more attractive set-top boxes and a slicker, more
BEST PVR HUMAX HDR-2000T £150 Such is the dominance of Humax in this Personal Video Recorder (PVR) category, we’re beginning to wonder whether we should just rename it ‘Best Humax Box’ instead. No matter what your free TV requirements, there’s a Humax box that will do a job for you. The HDR-2000T delivers everything you could possibly want from a Freeview box, from fine SD and HD pictures to an easy-touse eight-day electronic programme guide (EPG) and plenty of storage space for your recordings. There’s access to catch-up TV apps, YouTube and internet radio, too. Simple but effective, this is another winning TV box from Humax.
intuitive interface. In general the picture is crisp, packed with detail and with a pleasantly rich colour balance. Contrast levels are good, with ample insight into dark scenes and plenty of punch in bright ones. Motion handling is smooth and mostly stable. Of course the other key feature of Sky Q is the addition of 4K Ultra HD content. Launching with the broadest 4K content offering available at this moment, with a nice balance of live sport and on-demand films, it’s currently the biggest and best advert for 4K content in the UK. Despite reports of the odd Sky Q hardware hitch, we remain convinced that Sky Q is the future of TV – and it’s right here, right now.
“Sky Q is currently the biggest and best advert for 4K content in the UK” The 2000T is simple but effective – another winner from Humax
“The HDR-2000T delivers everything you could want from a Freeview box” www.whathifi.com 93
AWARDS 2016 SYSTEMS
Whether it’s an all-in-one hi-fi system, a microsystem or a one-box system, this section has them all covered
The Denon focuses on physical media such as CDs and USB sticks
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST MICROSYSTEM DENON D-M40DAB £350 Despite our continued move towards an ever-connected world, sometimes it’s nice to take things back to basics. The fact the Denon D-M40DAB is one of the most-read reviews on whathifi.com proves a lot of our readers think the same. It’s easy to see why. This dinky system might not offer the network features or Bluetooth of the majority of its competitors, but its superb sonic performance more than justifies it scooping the Product of the Year gong for the second year running.
Let’s get physical
Instead, its focus is on physical media – CDs, USB sticks and a smattering of analogue and digital inputs are this system’s bread and butter, plus there are DAB and FM radio tuners on board as well. The Denon’s performance is certainly impressive. Play a CD and not even newer competition can touch it for detail levels or dynamics. It offers a more expressive, better organised performance that doesn’t shy away from subtlety and insight. 94 www.whathifi.com
Plug an iPod into the front-panel USB input (which now accepts AAC, WAV and FLAC files, as well as the WMA and MP3 of its Award-winning predecessor), and the results are equally enjoyable.
Life in the old system
Even the rowdiest of songs is handled with poise and togetherness, finding a great balance between weight, detail and attack while always ensuring that timing is spot on. This is the result of the improved 32-bit/192kHz DAC from the D-M40’s predecessor, but it also benefits from a more sensitive DAB and FM tuner plus newly tweaked speakers. We’d recommend buying the system complete with Denon’s own speakers –you won’t find much better at their price, and they integrate well too. For a second year running, Denon’s microsystem has fought off the challenge of better-specified competition by simply delivering excellent performance and proving there’s life in the old system yet. If your music library is on shelves rather than a streaming service, the Denon D-M40DAB is a superb buy.
SYSTEMS AWARDS 2016
BEST ONE-BOX SYSTEM REVO SUPERSYSTEM £550 With a 2015 Award under its belt for the SuperConnect, Revo has pushed its aspirations a little further this year, delivering not just a radio but an all-in-one system – and an excellent one at that. Good looks run in the family it seems, and the SuperSystem shares many of the facets that made the SuperConnect so alluring. The build quality is unquestionable, and we like the retro walnut enclosure and industrial aluminium grille of our sample, though more contemporary tastes might prefer the black or white versions instead.
Scale and authority
Behind its non-removeable grille there are twin 9cm drivers to go with the 40W downwardfiring subwoofer. The display is a bright and clear 2.7in OLED unit, while playback is controlled via the numerous buttons dotted along the front. It looks complicated but it’s easy to use in practice. It wouldn’t be an all-in-one system without a long list of connections, and physical sockets include a 3.5mm input, optical in and out, RCA out, headphone out and ethernet – plus a USB port for charging devices and playing music from memory sticks. Wireless connections
The SuperSystem balances build quality and audio performance
include aptX Bluetooth and wi-fi, plus there’s FM, DAB and internet radio to go at too. If that’s not enough, the device is also DLNAcertified, which means you can play music from networked storage devices, plus Spotify Connect is on hand, too, should you need it. It’s a large-scale, commanding sound, with an authority that its rivals can’t manage.
“Revo delivers a masterclass in making a superb all-inone system at this price”
It’s a detailed listen too, by all-in-one standards. There could be a touch more subtlety, but there’s enough insight here to keep you hooked, and an easygoing demeanour that won’t lose its composure when it’s cranked up high.
It’s not often you find an all-in-one system of this quality. The SuperSystem balances audio performance with build quality and features to deliver a masterclass in making a superb all-in-one system at this price.
BEST HI-FI SYSTEM ARCAM SOLO MUSIC £1600 Sometimes it’s easier to have everything in one package – and single-box hi-fi systems are no exception. The Arcam Solo Music is a premium just-add-speakers system that sits at the centre of your hi-fi and home cinema entertainment set-up. It’s the third generation of the Solo Music, a brand that’s been around for more than a decade, and, like its predecessors, it offers an impressive array of functions. As well as being a CD/SACD-playing, networkstreaming source in itself, and having a DAB/ DAB+/FM tuner and Bluetooth on board, the Solo has digital and analogue connections,
A talented one-box music system, Arcam’s Solo Music sets the benchmark for this price
including four HDMI inputs and single optical, coaxial, USB, phono and 3.5mm inputs. It also has DLNA functionality, and plays 24-bit/192kHz music from anywhere on your local network.
Powerful and punchy
Underneath the chunky exterior, the Solo Music shares many components with Arcam’s home cinema and hi-fi separates, including 160W of Class G amplification – as found at the high end of Arcam’s FMJ integrated amp range. Like many Arcam products, the Solo Music offers an instantly likeable sound: powerful, punchy and smooth, with must haves like
clarity, balance and detail also checking in. No part of the frequency range tips the tonal scales off kilter, and the Arcam has the space and precision to articulate even the most complicated of tracks, always sounding solid and focused.
It’s a broad soundfield too, which complements the system’s confidence with dynamics, delivering energetic tracks with gusto and more brooding tracks with poise and consideration. Hook it up to your TV and it does all of this with your movies too, putting weight and expression behind well-recorded dialogue. Hi-res music steps this up a notch, delivering a richer bass response and more dynamic sublety, but its character is the same across all of its inputs. The multi-talented Arcam Solo Music sets a high benchmark for a system of its type at this price. A well-made and solid-sounding product, this is a complete one-box stereo system.
“The Solo Music offers a likeable sound – powerful, punchy and smooth” www.whathifi.com 95
AWARDS 2016 WIRELESS HEADPHONES
WIRELESS HEADPHONES More and more people are doing without wires. And with cans this good, why wouldn’t you?
A drop in price has taken the P5s from top quality to sublime
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST WIRELESS HEADPHONES £200-£300 BOWERS & WILKINS P5 WIRELESS £230 Wireless headphones have, without a doubt, become more prominent over the past year. With the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from Apple’s iPhone, alongside rumours that Samsung and other Android manufactures are going to follow suit, it’s likely that we are going to see even more cordless cans. That’s why it’s so satisfying to see something such as Bowers and Wilkins’ P5 Wireless headphones here – we gave them an Award in 2015 but because of a £100 price drop they’re even more affordable while being just as brilliant. They definitely deserve to be our Product of the Year.
These headphones feel like an executive armchair for your ears, the epitome of portable elegance, and a sure-fire way to look and feel smart next to the masses of primary-coloured plastic on the bus. The controls on the right earcup – the standard three-button volume/ play/pause/call configuration, along with a power/pair slider – are intuitive. Pairing is easy and made in seconds. Perhaps most importantly, a stable aptX Bluetooth connection means that there aren’t going to be any drops in your sound while using these headphones. 96 www.whathifi.com
Blasting Muse’s Psycho, these headphones maintain a bold sound with enough weight to give your ears a thorough slamming. A robust-sounding midrange helps to reinforce that impression of power, while subtle dynamics make the most of the song’s distorted guitar torture. A firm grip on rhythm ensures an eloquent delivery – it’s not merely the impression of authority, it’s the real deal. The bassline is deep and taut, the pounding drums kick hard and yet maintain control, and there’s enough texture throughout to make out easily Matt Bellamy’s laboured breathing, all without the hiss we often experience with other Bluetooth headphones. In the event you run down the 17-hour lithium battery by using these headphones all day, concealed beneath one of the earpads is a socket for wired use. Its design requires the headphone cable to be snaked through a tiny channel, thereby protecting the socket from death by yanking, but it’s fairly easily done and is an effective work-around. These headphones have a great sound and gorgeous design, with none of the inconvenience that comes from tangled cables – or the complete absence of ports from your device. While the P5s are confident enough to go wireless, we certainly wouldn’t be happy going P5-less.
WIRELESS HEADPHONES AWARDS 2016
BEST NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES UNDER £100 PHILIPS SHB8850NC £90 Striking the balance between low cost and high quality is like a performer staying stable on a tightrope, trying not to fall too far left, or too far right. Many manufacturers either increase the price of their product in the search for great sound, or they sacrifice quality to some extent in order to make their design more affordable. With these noise-cancelling headphones, however, Philips has managed to stay steady all the way to the platform, much to the delight of the circus’s audience. There’s a certain stylishness to these headphones that reveals the attention to detail that’s been put into designing them: the headband has centimetre markings, so you know exactly how much you’ve extended them. The rotating earcups mean that they’re compact and can easily fit into a rucksack or handbag. And we think the diamond-pattern casing is a nice touch, too.
Instruments of delight
Once we’ve put them on and streamed a minute or two of The Who’s Baba O’Riley, it becomes
Hear these and you’ll marvel that such quality can be had for just £90
“When Roger Daltrey starts singing, you can hear the reverberation in every note”
clear to us these headphones are well equipped to deal with the flurry of instruments. At the beginning of the song, the synths are kept tight and organised, and your ears just won’t be able to resist pricking up when the first piano chord comes in. There’s a lot of movement in the soundstage, as the low drums bounce around from left to right in the mix, but there’s no shortage of precision. The Philips are notably detailed too, more than you would expect from headphones in this price range – when Roger Daltrey starts singing, you can hear the reverberation in every note. Change to something a little slower and more emotional, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah say, and these headphones do a fantastic job at conveying the sadness of the song. These cans are so good, most rivals sound muffled by comparison.
If you’re serious about sound and are looking for some noise-cancelling cans that you can quickly pack up and that don’t cost too much, these are the ones you’ve been looking for.
BEST NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES £100+ SONY MDR-1000X £350 We didn’t see this one coming. Bose and Sennheiser are usually battling it out for our premium noise-canceller Award, but this year Sony has sneaked in under the radar and stolen the show. The MDR-1000Xs are a convincing combination of clever features, excellent noise-cancelling and brilliant sound quality.
This time, it really is personal
Clever features, great noise-cancelling and terrific sound quality
Sony’s Personal NC Optimiser ensures you get a strong noise-cancelling experience. Tap the relevant button and the headphones spring into life, outputting a series of test tones to optimise the sound for your ears. It’s a similar process to that undertaken by AV amps when they calibrate speaker output to suit the room. The resultant sound is terrific, among the best we’ve heard. And it gets even better. When you need to speak to someone, you don’t need to break the seal. Quick Attention mode involves placing your hand on the right headphone housing while you’re listening to music and there’s immediate silence. Take your hand away and the music reappears. It’s a neat
touch and offers something a little different from the competition. Whatever your musical tastes, the MDR1000Xs produce a carefully balanced sound. Play Vance Joy’s Georgia and there’s a wonderful amount of space as the guitar meanders through the beginning of the track. Similarly, the drum kick has real impact and solidity. Highs are nicely judged, with percussion sounding smooth and expressive. Lows are weighty but the Sonys prove agile enough to delve in and decipher the thickest of basslines.
No mean feat
Managing to nail the noise-cancelling while still producing a great audio experience is no mean feat, but Sony has managed it. Sprinkle in some smart, useful features and the MDR-1000Xs deserve a big round of applause. And an Award.
“They prove agile enough to delve in and decipher the thickest of basslines” www.whathifi.com 97
AWARDS 2016 WIRELESS HEADPHONES
BEST WIRELESS HEADPHONES UNDER £200 AKG Y50BT £130 Much like their wired counterpa counterparts, the AKG Y50BT perform just as w ll well now as they did when they won th this category last year. What you have here is a rare example of headphones that are equally excellent across audio performance, featur features, design and build quality. The right earcup has buttons for volume l / volume, play/ pause, and power/pairing. Pairing is easy – Bluetooth connection takes no time at all, and d we don’t experience any dropouts. What’s more, the balanced ratio of alumi aluminium to plastic gives a luxurious vibe and, althou h although the big ‘AKG’ slapped across the earcups isn isn’t ffor everyone, the ones we test in black and silv silver are subdued enough to be cool. And they’re practical too. They’re comfo bl comfortable to wear for long sessions, even with glasses d glasses, and they don’t get our ears warm too quickly. A d And when you’re done, the earcups swivel flat aand d fold inwards, small enough to fit in a coat p k . pocket.
tell the calibre alibre of the talent on hand. There is no ble hint of the hiss and whine that give discernible a away the wirelessness of lesser headphones. Bags off detail go hand-in-hand with that c ou get all manner of texture to clarity. You ents and vocals, which are organised instruments w ll enough ugh for you to appreciate the sense of well d separation but not regimented space and e h to o seem clinical. Throw in some dashes enough he, and the result is a performance of panache, h that’s as entertaining as it is competent.
The clarity and insight are exceptional. And there’s panache, too
They got rhythm
The Y50BTs’ BTs’ sense of rhythm is good. We never h thing other than top timing, even when hear anything w feed f hem Miles Davis or John Coltrane. The we them nes have the dynamic heft to articulate headphones f in tone and volume. shifts Iff you want to go wireless without breaking h bank, b k, but still get a luxurious product, then the l k no further. There’s never a dull moment look w h these h se entertaining headphones. with
As good as wired
“Equally “E ually excellent across formance, features, performance, d ign and build quality” design
Alongside great build quality is a sound that tha is d extraordinary by wireless standards, easily good perform enough to pass for a decent wired performance. The headphones are remarkably clear, ea to offering the sort of insight that makes it easy
BEST WIRELESS HEADPHONES £300+ BOWERS & WILKINS P7 WIRELESS £320 As the more refined bigger broth brother off our Product of the Year, the P7s ha have it all. They’ve a similarly elegant de design to the P5 Wireless, and are just as intuitive aand d simple to use. This is a case, it would seem, off “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” from B&W. The earpads are very comfortable and can b be worn all day, while their 17-hour lithium bat y battery makes it very unlikely that you’ll run out of power. The ease with which you can switch between wireless devices also ups their usability. The P7’s aptX Bluetooth connectiv y connectivity is controlled via the power button: slide it aacross to turn on and off, and push it in to make th the headphones discoverable to new devices. It It’s the ergonomic craftsmanship of these cans that h makes them so satisfying to use.
Detail and clarity
Sonically, these headphones are superbly detailed. They keep Pitbull and Ke$ha’s collaboration Timber upbeat and fun, with
“Timber is upbeat and fun and has heaps of emotion in both the artists’ vocals” 98 www.whathifi.com
No matter what the music, the P7s really get to the heart of it
heapss of emotion in both the artists’ vocals. h also reveal the deep, harsh growl in They bull’s voice, making you believe he could be Pitbull’s ng this having just come out of a club. singing Thee P7s have a good control of the dynamics too, able to build smoothly from the harmonica a thee start of Timber to the crescendo of the at l d club. The message is that these loud h dphones can effectively recreate the headphones a sphere of a range of music with ease. atmosphere
Deep, ep, generous but taut
The deep bass beats are generous, yet managed cularly well in the way they keep the sound particularly taut and tuneful while sustaining plenty of a k. At the other end of the spectrum, the attack. h h notes have rich texture to them without high e g on the thin side and, on the whole, the erring P7s deliver a comfortably full-bodied sound. h something more complicated, such as With Wh re Is My Mind by Pixies, the P7s keep the Where rast between quiet background echoes and contrast d rtion in the guitar balanced and organised. distortion hese headphones will relish your chilled These ning-commute playlist, your atmospheric morning-commute d me soundtracks and your powerful pop if daytime y fancy going to a silent disco in the evening. you h ’re one habit we won’t be looking to break. They’re
TEMPTATIONS AWARDS 2016
TEMPTATIONS The Temptations section features hi-fi kit with price tags that put them out of the reach of most. But what’s the harm in dreaming, right?
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
DAVE stands for ‘Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis’. Other than that, it’s brilliant
BEST TEMPTATION CHORD DAVE £8000 Chord has the Midas touch when it comes to digital-toanalogue converters. Turn to this year’s DAC Awards and the company’s products dominate the category once again. The likes of the Hugo and 2Qute are quite brilliant for the money, but if your spending power stretches beyond these, consider DAVE. The heart of this unit, and every current Chord DAC for that matter, is a FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) loaded with highly developed proprietary software, and this marks Chord products out as something special. This digital engine does everything from the digital-to-analogue conversion to filtering, even processing a DSD signal when required.
There’s the usual trio of digital inputs – USB (type B), coaxial and optical. DAVE loves big numbers, with the single USB capable of accepting PCM signals with sampling rates up to an astonishing 768kHz. It handles DSD files up to a staggering DSD 512 too. The outputs are far more conventional, with single-ended and balanced analogue options. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of listening to realise DAVE is at the cutting edge of digital performance. It just sounds so right, even trying to deconstruct its performance genuinely takes an effort.
Orff’s Carmina Burana is one of the most demanding pieces of music we know. It has savage dynamics coupled to complex instrumentation, and varies from outright frenzy to angelic in the space of just a few seconds. DAVE takes it all in stride. This DAC renders a convincing acoustic – a believable space populated by the choir and instruments.
It’s DAVE’s dynamic ability that impresses us most. Not only does this DAC thump out crescendos with conviction, but it also goes from loud to quiet and back again with a grace and fluidity we’ve never heard from digital files before. It paints music with class-leading naturalness that makes most rivals sound mechanical and restrained in comparison. These qualities remain on Kendrick Lemar’s The Blacker the Berry, where the rhythm track comes through with unstoppable momentum. There’s everything we want here – punch, attack and plenty of insight. DAVE’s sound is superbly refined, but never uses that as an excuse to smooth things off to the extent where the music’s innate sparkle is reduced. It’s just transparent to the source. We can ask no more than that. We’re truly smitten with this Chord. It’s expensive and has a daft name, but when it comes to performance, no DAC we’ve heard comes close. www.whathifi.com 99
AWARDS 2016 STEREO SPEAKERS
STEREO SPEAKERS The best things come in pairs, and whether it’s standmounter, floorstander or desktop, our stereo speakers category is proof of that
The Emit M20s are easily the best-value speakers on the market right now
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
BEST STANDMOUNT £400-£800 DYNAUDIO EMIT M20 £600 Even if the support act is unexpectedly good, it’s a relief when the headliners come on stage and top their efforts. That’s the feeling we had when we first listened to Dynaudio Emit M20s just weeks after the range’s smaller bookshelves, the M10s, triumphed over (last year’s Product of the Year) B&W 685 S2s. Displaying both more authority and dynamic expression, the Emit 20s justify the extra outlay over their sibling. We think they are the most capable pound-for-pound stereo speakers on the market – quite something considering the highly talented competition from Wharfedale and KEF.
with attack and potency, and even in the most complex moments, still pick out the multiple strands of the music – rhythmic drums, ambient guitar lines, cutting cymbals – without sidelining any element. They exhibit enthusiasm, but manage to stabilise it with a pleasant smoothness and refinement – and that winning algorithm makes them so listenable and versatile. They aren’t quite as flexible with poorer recordings – you won’t get the best from them playing compressed music – and they don’t care much for being shoved up against a wall. Instead they require a bit of room to hit the right tonal balance.
Game for everything
Passing the baton
The scale, dynamics and insight the 17cm magnesium silicate polymer mid/bass driver and 28mm soft dome tweeter achieve lays the M20’s ambitions bare. But none of it comes at the expense of musicality and agility. In Ludovico Einaudi’s Ancora, piano sequences enjoy nuance and texture, to the point where it sounds not so much as though he’s striking keys but giving you a personal lesson in advanced piano playing. Dynamically, the Dynaudios are as capable with explosive changes as subtle ones. Each piano note is solid, exact and punctual – even if in absolute terms they sometimes trade outright analysis for fun. Unlike some speakers that favour certain music genres, the Emit 20s are game for everything, including the glitchy synths and intensely heady electro-beats in 65daysofstatic’s Prisms. They whisk through the song 100 www.whathifi.com
You won’t want to hide them away in a corner of your room anyway. Sporting an uber-smooth satin lacquer (available in either white or black) and driver-dominated baffle, the Dynaudios deserve to be shown off. The smattering of screws bordering the drivers make the M20s look a little as though they have been used as target practice, but if this is a concern they can be covered with the grey cloth grilles. Personally we prefer their sound with the drivers on show. Build is excellent too, which only reiterates why these speakers are such a stellar buy. We thought it would be some time before the multi Award-winning B&W 685 S2s handed over the baton, but it just goes to show how the speaker market continues to get better. And right now, the Dynaudio Emit M20s are easily the best around anywhere near this price.
STEREO SPEAKERS AWARDS 2016
BEST STANDMOUNT UNDER £200 MISSION LX-2 £160 The LX-2s signal a return to form for the Mission brand
Before we heard the Mission LX-2s earlier this year, the list of the best speakers below £200 comprised a single name: the 2015 Award-winning Q Acoustics 3020. That these Missions are good enough to join the Qs on that list is admittedly something of a pleasant surprise. A decade ago, Mission dominated group tests and Awards, but in recent times has wavered. The LX-2s represent a return to form.
Old magic touch
To resurrect the old magic, Mission rehired some of the people who worked for them back then. Small, neatly finished and well-built, the LX-2s look like Missions of old, most obviously in the brand’s distinct driver configuration. A 25mm tweeter below the 13cm fibre composite mid/bass driver aids the time alignment between drivers for better integration. Putting them on a bookshelf may be convenient, but to reach their potential, place them on dedicated stands, fairly close to a wall with a little room for the rear-firing port to work. Whether driven by a micro-system or dedicated separates, the LX-2s get right to the heart of the music, getting straight into the groove of alt-J’s Left Hand Free. Fast, punchy
“Small, neatly finished and well built, the LX-2s look like Missions of old” and capable of deep, precise and authoritative bass, they charge through the rhythm track with skill, enthusiasm and top timing.
Subtleties are embraced. Vocals are clear, articulate and packed with energy. Nuances are rendered with finesse. They don’t choke when handling large-scale dynamics of big orchestral
pieces either, their composure and organisation first-rate at this level. While tonally pretty well balanced, a slight edge through the upper mid/ lower treble area is the only thing worth considering when partnering. Get it right, though, and the LX-2s are sure to fix a smile on your face. Well done, Mission.
BEST STANDMOUNT £200-£400 MONITOR AUDIO BRONZE 2 £280 If the Bronze 2s give you a strong sense of déjà vu, that’s not only because they’re the latest (actually, the fifth) take on an entry-level standmount Monitor Audio first introduced back in 2000, but also because they sat in this very spot in 2015’s What Hi-Fi? Awards issue.
Time may well have stood still for these Bronze 2s, for they are still just as dominant in this price category.
That’s credit to Monitor Audio, which improved its successful Bronze formula even further last year by introducing a raft of engineering changes, such as revised drive units, to make them arguably the most complete iteration yet. The company is known for turning out aesthetically pleasing boxes, and the Bronze 2s are no exception. The large MDF cabinets are available in four vinyl wrap finishes, and Monitor Audio’s Bronze have a distinct 2s defend the title they clutter-free won in 2015 – with ease baffle.
“Monitor Audio is known for aesthetically pleasing boxes and these are no exception”
Being front-ported should mean they’re less sensitive to placement, and they hit the best sonic balance around 30cm out into the room. Toeing them in tightens the stereo image, and bi-wiring improves openness and finesse. Once up and running, we’re once again taken aback by their balance and transparency, first and foremost in their inspiring rendition of ANOHNI’s Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth? There’s plenty of insight and dynamic attention into everything from the chiming melody to glitchy synth line, and that familiarly empyrean vocal delivery is open and explicit.
The rhythmic lines are held together in a way that not only communicates the momentum of the piece, but ensures it comes across as a cohesive, logical whole. Their low-end authority makes the most of the track’s electronic beat, and while attack is in abundance they’ve a delicate touch when required. With an impressive sense of scale, the ability to stay composed even at high volumes, and pleasing refinement, they prove to be a carefully honed pair of speakers. Joining their previous Award-winning generations, these Bronze 2s defend their title with ease. www.whathifi.com 101
AWARDS 2016 STEREO SPEAKERS
BEST STANDMOUNT £800-£1200 REVEL CONCERTA2 M16 £950 Like its confectionary namesake, Revel seems to have all the ingredients for success: in this case, well made, solidly engineered and, in our experience, good-sounding products. So we’re surprised the nearly twodecade-old speaker brand (owned by Harman) hasn’t made a bigger impact on the UK market. If it needed a kickstart, though, the M16s from the new Concerta2 series could provide it.
But most impressive of all is the enthusiastic way they deliver large-scale dynamics. The M16s pound out crescendos with relish, refusing to harden up or compress the music even at high volume levels.
Spicing it up
At face value, they look pretty standard: single-wired, medium-sized wooden boxes packing a 25mm dome tweeter and ported 16cm mid/bass driver. Explore further though, and it’s clear the company’s engineers have worked hard to spice things up. The unusual dished waveguide controls the directivity of the tweeter, making its dispersion closer to the mid/bass unit at crossover frequencies and enhances integration. Furthermore, the aluminium cone in the mid/bass driver is coated on both sides with a ceramic composite for extra stiffness; both drive units have highly developed motor systems to
Could the Concerta2 M16s make an impact on the UK market minimise a range of distortions; the rear firing port is curved, rather than straight, to deliver high output without adding noise. The pay-off is palpable upon first listen to Tchaikovsky’s demanding Marché Slave Op.31, the M16s rendering an impressively expansive, open stereo image, and populating it with precisely focused sounds.
The Revels may be 37cm tall, but you’d swear you were listening to decently sized floorstanders. Lows are not only powerful but agile and tuneful too. Subtlety prevails as we play Dusty Springfield, that superbly integrated midrange communicating her vocal with all the finesse and passion it deserves. A ruthless edge means they can be easily provoked by bright or aggressive partnering kit. But while they aren’t the last word in refinement, they entertain in a way few price rivals can. That’s why we think they’re worth £950 of anyone’s money.
“They’re not the most refined choice, but they entertain in a way few price rivals can”
BEST STANDMOUNT £1200-£1500 ATC SCM11 £1200 We don’t know which will come first: U2’s split or the What Hi-Fi? Awards issue where something other than ATC SCM11 takes a prize, but we’d hedge our bets at the former. Over the multiple reviews we’ve written of the speakers’ incarnations in the past decade, they’ve faced more competition than budget airlines have, yet still manage to undermine any rival they go up against. Just when you think a new £1000-odd standmounter is really getting to the core of a piece of music, the ATCs come out of storage to prove they can peel away another layer and deliver even greater transparency.
They aren’t the bubbliest speaker out there or capable of the deepest bass (partly due to the closed-box design), but their unrivalled levels of subtlety and resolution seal the deal. They draw you into the ambient instrumentals that open Band of Horses’ Dull
“For the money, they seem to do everything right – and they look the part too” 102 www.whathifi.com
Times/The Moon from the first dragging synth note, their big, spacious presentation full of lush textures and sweeping dynamics. They’re capable of picking out each intertwining musical strand, and their 15cm mid/bass driver and 25mm soft-dome work to deliver in an integrated and coordinated manner. The echo attached to the meandering vocal is captured, and there’s the weight, attack and agility across the frequency range to change gear as the track transitions from swooning orchestration to an energetic rock jam vibe.
Frankly, the ATCs fit the mould of any track we feed it, from Atoms for Peace to Massive Attack, via Eminem: at every turn the ATCs demonstrate an extraordinary level of precision. The whole frequency range is superbly controlled, yet it never gets too analytical. As easy as it is to pick out all the separate elements of a track, these speakers manage to knit
Another prize for the ATC SCM11s – but still no news on U2’s split everything into a cohesive, musical whole. It’s hard not to be totally enamoured by the ATC SCM11s. For the money, they seem to do everything right – and their solid curved cabinets look the part too. When it comes to speakers, or even hi-fi kit in general, there are few better ways to spend £1200.
STEREO SPEAKERS AWARDS 2016
BEST STANDMOUNT £1500+ ATC SCM19 £2000 Despite the numerical leap, the SCM19s are the next step up from the SCM11s (the number refers to the internal volume, in litres, of the cabinets). But size isn’t where the differences end. The mid/bass driver is the company’s highly developed 15cm unit, which has served in
its premium standmounts for decades. Sitting above it is a higher-spec version of the SCM11’s 25mm soft-dome tweeter, which was made in-house – quite an achievement for a small firm. The upshot is quick to reveal itself as we put the SCM19s to work – they’re a significant step up in every sonic sense.
The dynamic SCM19s take an Award for a second consecutive year
Playing Johann Johannsson’s A Model of the Universe reminds us why these speakers are taking home their second consecutive Award. The natural and nuanced way they render the varying intensity of piano keys and guitar strums justifies the extra outlay over their sibling. Leading and trailing edges of notes are crisply
defined without sounding artificially hyped, and the airtight presentation is as tonally convincing as it is dynamically spellbinding.
We also like the SCM19s’ ability to render a large-scale soundstage and remain stable even as the piece’s complexity increases. Moving onto Prince’s Love shows these boxes like to party – and that’s the real clincher. They deliver the song’s relentless rhythmic momentum with enthusiasm, kicking hard at the low end while delivering the drum machines with attack and determination. Prince’s vocals are handled in a crisp and articulate manner too, and that’s balanced with a fine sense of body and natural warmth. These ATCs are analytical yet never sound clinical or passionless. They remain transparent to the original recording and system electronics. And when it comes to insight and honesty, we haven’t heard any better for the money.
“The airtight presentation is as tonally convincing as it is dynamically spellbinding”
BEST FLOORSTANDER UNDER £500 TANNOY ECLIPSE 3 £300 Budget floorstanders have been absent as an Award category for some time. There just haven’t been any we could recommend without hesitation – most that enter our test rooms sound bloated and unwieldy next to their smaller standmount siblings, despite offering more bass. So we’re pleased to report Tannoy’s Eclipse Three are anomalies, turning in a musically engaging performance that compares with the best standmount speakers at the price.
They’re solidly built and have a neat Black Oak veneer finish – but the relatively ordinary look offers no hint of the sonic excellence to come. The baffle is top-heavy, with three drivers on show, but from an electrical point of view these are two-way speakers. The pair of 13cm coated-pulp mid/bass units cross over to the 28mm woven-polyester dome tweeter at 3.2kHz – a little higher than we normally see.
“The relatively ordinary appearance offers no hint about the sonic excellence”
Attaching the plinths gives the 96cm-tall towers greater stability. Giving them a little room to breathe (they don’t take kindly to sidewalls or corners) stabilises the bass, which comes through thick and fast in The Naked and Famous’s All of This. The Tannoys have the agility, articulacy and, importantly, the venom to deliver the upbeat rhythmic track with plenty of snap. There’s also enough refinement at the top end to prevent things turning overly harsh. We switch to Holst’s Jupiter and the scale and handling of huge dynamic swings is just as impressive. Loosening your pursestrings to the Q Acoustics 3050 (£500) will get you more low-end reach, insight and authority, but at £300 we haven’t heard any rival do better. We’re pleased by the Tannoys’ ability to organise detail, even when things get complex. They hold onto instrumental strands and keep things composed even as volume levels rise.
While not the most tonally pure, they’re at least well balanced and smooth enough to work well with a wide range of kit, and that unfussy nature is essential for budget speakers. Enjoyable, informative and easy to accommodate. What more could you want?
At this price, we haven’t heard a rival better than the Tannoy Eclipse 3s www.whathifi.com 103
AWARDS 2016 STEREO SPEAKERS
BEST FLOORSTANDER £500-£1000 Q ACOUSTICS 3050 £500 The Q Acoustic 3020s may have be been deposed from the top end of the podium this year by Mission, but th their big brothers have still managed to claim an Award. They represent what remains a very strong speaker series from the British brand. The fact there are now more affordable floorstanders than them to recommend doesn doesn’t make these lean, gorgeously finished towers less tempting for anyone prepared to splash o out a little more – on the contrary, in fact.
Anyone familiar with Q Acoustics’ signature sound – refined, subtle and suave, yet full of punch and attack – won’t be even slightly surprised at the 3050s, which dutifully follow suit but prove more transparent, precise and n authoritative than any of their predecessors, not to mention the Tannoys they sit above. A full, agile and dulcet bass, and crisp and controlled treble define their tonal balance, which in typical Q Acoustics fashion favours the rich side of neutral. That promises listeners a solid, robust full-bodied presentation. Powerful and assertive, the 3050s deliver a huge sense of scale and are capable of enveloping our largest test room with ease. You
The 3050s amount to quite a pair of speakers – plus another Award
ccan place them quite far apart without losing a h stereo image, while they strike the best tight nce pulled at least 20cm away from the wall. balance A musical, measured stance and fine hmic drive lie at the heart of their sonic rhythmic ic, and they give decent speakers at double magic, h price a run for their money. the hat’s all thanks to Q Acoustics’ decision to That’s ke significant changes to the 3050s from make h 2050i predecessors – Award winners their h mselves in 2014. The cone material of the themselves twin 16.5cm mid/bass drivers is now made of mid fibre – a paper/aramid composition Aramid wh h strengthens the cone and makes its which b haviour more predictable and tonally neutral. behaviour
No o reservations
“A musical stance and crisp rhythmic drive lie at the heart of their sonic magic”
The 25mm tweeter, decoupled from the main c net by butyl rubber to isolate it from the cabinet mental vibrations of the cabinet, now uses detrimental d phragm that combines the design elements a diaphragm of thee ring radiator and dome to improve treble p formance. And lastly, the crossover uses performance. h her-grade components, supposedly to reduce higher-grade ph e problems at the crossover point. phase It’ss quite the revision over the 2050is and one which amounts to quite a pair of speakers. At this price, we’ve no reservations whatsoever.
BEST FLOORSTANDER £1000-£2000 TANNOY REVOLUTION XT6F £1000 When it came to Awards judging last year, the XT6Fs were impossible to ignore. And they’re no less worthy of our attention 12 months later. Their aptitude is obvious. They waste no time in setting out their stall: what you get is an entertaining listen. There’s a tremendous immediacy to the Tannoys’ delivery that has no problem attracting your undivided attention.
We put on a bit of Prince and party like it’s 1999. Your feet will tap. Your fingers will snap. So infectious is the level of energy that you can’t escape, at the very least, dancing in your chair. But these Tannoys are more than just a joyride. They are highly versatile speakers, which are equally content to bop along to Pharrell Williams as they are to kick back and chill out to Portishead. Timing and dynamics are key here, and these Tannoys are well endowed in both departments. Whatever you throw at them will be handled with precision, while the wide dynamic range offers enough zest to ensure the performance never veers into the clinical. Despite their lively demeanour, the sound is balanced, no part of the frequency demanding extra attention. 104 www.whathifi.com
The midrange is lovely – it’s direct without being demanding. Vocals stand out without feeling isolated. There’s a good deal of bass, but it’s agile and nicely controlled. We move up to the treble and find it could be a little sweeter and more delicate, but now we’re just nitpicking. We’re impressed by the level of integration – the various elements cooperate to perform as a unified whole. There’s also plenty of detail throughout the frequency range. The various textures are entirely convincing. It also helps that it’s a big sound, as tall and wide as you like.
The presentation is spacious and airy. There’s room enough whether you want to occupy that soundstage with brass bands or full orchestras – whichever you choose will be organised and fully ready to rock. If it’s a party you want, the XT6Fs have you covered for both the frolics and the subsequent haze of the chillout zone.
“There’s an immediacy to the delivery that attracts your undivided attention”
Tannoy’s XT6Fs are an entertaining listen, but also remain balanced
AWARDS 2016 STEREO SPEAKERS
BEST FLOORSTANDER £2000+ PMC TWENTY5.23 £3000 Unless you’re counting in dog years, 25 years is a long time and a lot can happen in that period. Over the past quarter of a century, PMC has grown from a small concern focused on professional monitors into one of the mainstay of the premium domestic speaker market – something its Twenty5 range celebrates. The Twenty 5.23 floorstanders from the series demonstrate just how much it’s learned over the years, from its distinctly domestically sensible build to its terrifically complete sound.
The Laminair vent on the Twenty5.23s helps control airflow and noise
“In resolution, dynamics and punch, they set the sonic standard at this price”
They may resemble the admired Twenty 23s with their slanted cabinet, but, a few screws apart, these are all new units. The most obvious change is the move from full-size plinths to metal stabiliser bars, though of more obvious audio benefit, perhaps, are the new drive units. The 27mm soft-dome tweeter uses a Sonolex dome designed to deliver a smooth, insightful sound with wide dispersion, while in the 14cm mid/bass driver’s cone promises improved rigidity. It’s that interesting slot arrangement at the front, though, that is the big advance. The Laminair vent is a fancy finned structure clearly
visible at the mouth of the 23’s transmission line. It is designed to smooth the way air flows out to limit noise and create faster responses and better low-end definition. Out in a room, the 5.23s render an expansive soundstage that extends well beyond the speakers themselves, though anyone looking to fill a particularly large space should consider one of the range’s bigger models.
Whether fed Led Zeppelin or Wiz Khalifa, these speakers hammer home rhythmic tracks with a fine sense of energy and precision. They’re dynamic too, capable of delivering subtle and larger scale dynamic shifts with conviction, and punching satisfyingly hard in the low-end. Up top, things remain well judged; vocals are strongly projected with every nuance intact, and the treble balances its biting nature with just the right amount of refinement. Listening to these quickly diminishes any fears we initially had over their similar look to, and price increase over, the older Twentys. Miles better when it comes to resolution, dynamics and punch, they set the sonic standard at this price. We can’t find a fault, apart from their mouthful of a name, perhaps.
BEST DESKTOP SPEAKER KEF EGGS £350 It’s unusual for eggs to last more than a year, but KEF’s iconic speaker design, first seen in a 5.1 package, is still very much of the Class A variety. These new ones are a wireless and powered 2.0 offering – you can use them with computers, portable devices and TVs.
Agility and clarity
The build quality is good. The enclosure is predominantly plastic but the speakers are reassuringly weighty – t will take considerable effort to knock them off your desk. Peel off the speaker grilles and you’ll find KEF’s trademark Uni-Q driver, which has a tweeter placed in the middle of the mid/bass driver and is intended to aid precision and dispersion. The two KEF Eggs seem identical but this is actually a master-slave system, which means one does the heavy lifting and passes information to the other. All the processing takes place in the foot of the master unit, which features a mains input, mini USB input and output for connecting to the slave unit, plus a subwoofer output for the option of adding lower frequencies later. The USB input can accept hi-res audio up to 24-bit/96kHz, and there’s also Bluetooth 4.0 with support for aptX devices. 106 www.whathifi.com
Thankfully, sound quality is good whether you use them up close or from across the room. The Uni-Q drivers disperse sound in a seamless and immersive way. Integration is a particular forte: no matter where you stand in the room, it is hard to tell where midrange ends and treble begins. The Eggs are alive with agility and clarity. Voices are projected cleanly, with a convincing richness. Instruments are delivered with natural textures and taut rhythm.
It’s a balanced sound, too. The bass won’t shake your house’s foundations, but it goes sufficiently deep. The best thing about it is the control at the low end: there’s an eloquence here that even previous Award-winners like the Ruark MR1s, would struggle to muster. We remain very impressed with KEF’s desktop offering. Their distinctive design
“We are impressed with KEF’s distinctive design and stunning performance”
and flexible connectivity make for a great start, and they follow that first impression through with stunning performance that is consistent across a variety of placements. It will take an almighty thwack to break these Eggs. The Eggs look identical, but the master’s base does the processing
STEREO SPEAKERS AWARDS 2016
BEST ACTIVE SPEAKER DYNAUDIO XEO 2 £995 If Dynaudio ran a TV commercial for the Xeo 2s, we imagine ‘more than just speakers’ would be somewhere in the tagline. And, unlike the products that so oft ride the popular slogan, there’d be some truth behind the marketing hyperbole. With digital amplifiers, DACs and Bluetooth receivers built-in they, like their five-star big brothers the Xeo 4s, are a near-complete system in speakers’ clothing. The idea is simple: just plug both speakers into the mains and add a source, via Bluetooth or the Xeo 2’s 3.5mm 3.5mm, RCA or optical inputs. The last of those supports PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz, so hi-res and network playback from a connected streamer like the Pioneer N-50A or Bluesound Node is possible.
Is wireless sound a compromise? Usually yes, although the Xeo 2s sound anything but compromised. One advantage of active speakers is that engineers can tune the various elements together to work in harmony – and it pays off here, as the frequencies are well integrated. Tonality occupies neutral territory and detail spreads evenly in a soundstage you’d think would belong to boxes twice the size. More than just speakers could be a tagline for a Xeo 2 ad campaign
The Xeo 2s are more affordable, desktopfriendly versions of the Xeo 4s with an all-new 28mm soft dome tweeter and 14cm Magnesium Silicate Polymer cone driver, each driven by 65W of digital Class D amplification. While their satin (black or silver) finish isn’t as luxurious, their control panel – flush touch buttons on the top panel – is better integrated.
Biwire Speakers that are biwirable have two pairs of speaker terminals. This allows for two connections to be made between the amplifier and the speaker, one for high frequency sounds and another for mid/bass frequencies. This can improve the sound significantly. Coloration Any tonal alterations or distortion added to the original signal can be classified as coloration. Crossover The circuit inside a speaker that splits, or filters, the incoming signal, sending high frequencies to the tweeter and midrange/bass to the larger unit. Dynamics A speaker’s dynamic ability is the way it goes from quiet to loud and back. The best speakers
Bass power and depth also belie the physical proportions, and praise of the low-end can be extended to agility too. Expressive mids hold the centre of the sentation with focus and solidity presentation aplenty, and meet a treble just as articulate. In fact, there’s a level of transparency you’d be hard-pressed to find from a similarly-priced system of hi-fi separates. Their versatility and so-good-wecan’t-believe-it’s-wireless performance make for an impressive pair of do-it-all speakers in which compact dimensions and great sound happily co-exist.
“The Xeo 2s put in a sogood-we-can’t-believeit’s-wireless performance”
Jargon buster Speake Choosing the right pair of stereo speakers is fundamental to your enjoyment of music, so let What Hi-Fi? explain some of the more common technical terms. Now you can buy your next pair of speakers with confidence.
And, like the shortest player on a basketball court, the modest boxes have something to prove, affording music scale and authority in abundance.
manage this quickly, in a smooth sweep. The difference between the quietest sounds the speaker produces and the loudest is called the dynamic range. Sensitivity A measure of how loud a speaker will go for a given input power. Typical values are around 89dB/W/m. Every 3dB of sensitivity means you’ll need only half the amplifier power to go as loud. Tweeter A drive unit, usually shaped like a small dome or cone, designed to reproduce high-frequency sounds. Typically this varies from 2000Hz to 20,000Hz, the upper limit of human hearing. Woofer Usually the largest drive unit. It is designed to deliver low frequency sounds, typically from around 40Hz to 1000Hz. Can be used in multiples to increase output.
Relatively new to the world of hi-fi? Bamboozled by some of the jargon and lingo? Let What Hi-Fi? explain
AWARDS 2016 READERS’ AWARD
READERS’ AWARD There’s no pulling the wool over our readers’ eyes: this powerhouse may well be the best value-for-money product in this magazine
PRODUCT O F EAR E 1Y6 H0 T2
Hi-res audio, Spotify Connect, Dolby Atmos and more - all for £500
READERS’ AWARD DENON AVR-X2300 £500 Often the Readers’ Award is won by a groundbreaking, or glamorously sexy, or particularly shiny product – the sort of thing that excites from a distance almost as much as it does when we’re testing it. That’s not quite the case this year. That’s not meant to understate Denon’s myriad achievements with the AVR-X2300W. Its case for Home Cinema Amplifier Product of the Year is unarguable – indeed, there’s a faction at What Hi-Fi? Towers convinced the Denon is the best pound-for-pound proposition in this entire magazine. But there’s no denying it – there are more immediately covetable Award-winners here, some dressage show-offs to the 2300W’s workhorse.
exemplar, able to wring more information, and more expression, from a multichannel soundtrack than any nominal competitor. It’s got the chops to belie its price when it comes to stereo music too, making it an authentic all-rounder. Hi-res audio streaming (up to 24-bit/192kHz), integrated Spotify Connect, Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 and a sophisticated auto-calibration system mean it’s specified out of all proportion to its price, too. Even the previously frustrating control app (our biggest gripe when we initially tested the 2300W) has undergone improvement.
£500? You could have fooled us…
Usually ‘clever’, ‘conscientious’ and ‘hard-working’ will carry a product only so far when it comes to the Readers’ Award. The Denon AVR-X2300W bucks that trend, demonstrating that there’s worthiness and virtue in maximising existing technologies, and revealing readers of this magazine to be even more thoughtful and clear-sighted than we’d imagined. So feel free to pat yourselves on the back, Denon and What Hi-Fi? readers alike.
But the Denon’s no one-trick pony. Chapter, verse and minutiae of its specification (extensive) and performance (impeccable) can be found on p56, so here we’ll restrict ourselves to reiterating just how much more expensive than £500 the 2300W sounds. In terms of detail retrieval, refinement, attack and dynamic potency, the Denon’s an 108 www.whathifi.com
Maximising technology - and thoughtful readers
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BEST BUYS HI-FI STEREO AMPLIFIERS
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 Mission’s LX-2 speakers are the best we’ve seen from them in some time, B&W’s P7 Wireless set a high standard for other headphones to meet and ATC’s C1 speaker package is a stunningly expressive effort.
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B&W &W P7 Wireless “B&W &W has built a very impressive pressive pair of Bluetooth h adphones that we’d headphones certainly recommend”
Mission LX-2 “These get right to the heart of the music, as if the Missions have a direct line to the studio”
ATC C1 5.1 “Thankfully for ATC, and our eardrums, its C1 surround speaker package does a distinguished family proud”
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The C 338 includes Wi-Fi and Network Streaming and supports both google Cast and Spotify Connect. it also provides access to internet radio stations and can serve as an UPnP Client for network streaming from a local NAS library.
Every detail of the powerful C388 has been carefully planned and perfectly executed to wring out every last drop of performance. Featuring NAD’s exclusive modular design, adding the optional BluOS Module provides access to your local area network via Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet connection and adds Hi-Res Audio streaming.
FUTURE-PROOF MODULAR DESigN. This NAD exclusive feature allows you to customise your C 368 ampliﬁer with additional capabilities and features, now or in the future. The two available MDC slots can accommodate a variety of upgrade modules including 4K video capable HDMi switching, additional Digital inputs, additional Analogue and Phono inputs, and one of the most advanced Hi-Res Audio multi-room wireless systems available, the BluOS music management system developed by Bluesound. BluOS connects to your network and is controlled via smartphone, tablet or desktop to manage your music collection and connect to a growing list of high-quality streaming music services.
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PULSE SOUNDBAR £999
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The PULSE SOUNDBAR is the world’s ﬁrst Hi-Res Audio soundbar, supporting audio resolutions of 24 bits and up to 192kHz sampling rate. Furthermore, it supports Mater Quality Authenticated (MQA) high-resolution audio streams, another ﬁrst in the soundbar category. But it is not just the ability to handle hi-res audio streams that make the PULSE SOUNDBAR so unique, it is how it brings music and movies to life with its natural and dynamic sound quality.
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Time to enjoy vinyl collections with extraordinary quality! With a minimalist design, the C 556 turntable offers accurate reproduction by using performance-focused parts and components that put music ﬁrst.
The Hi-Res XDP-100 digital audio player from Pioneer is the right travel partner for demanding music fans. It plays Hi-Res WAV and FLAC ﬁles with Studio Master resolutions of up to 24bit/384kHz and DSD ﬁles of up to 11.2 MHz.
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An innovative concept derived from the legendary LS3/5a. Rarely the case in such a compact design, the LS50 monitor delivers a rich, multidimensional ’soundstage experience’ that is out of all proportion to its size.
Replacing the award-winning 2020i speakers, the 3020 incorporates numerous improvements including a revised cabinet with wool ﬁbre damping plus new bespoke drive units.
The Bronze 2 builds on the strength of its predecessor’s audiophile credibility with a neutral tonal balance and high detail resolution combined with high overall efﬁciency and power handling.
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THE WIRELESS Hi-fi SySTEM
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The Sonos Wireless HiFi System delivers all the music on earth, in every room, with warm, full-bodied sound that’s crystal clear at any volume. Sonos can ﬁll your home with music by combining HiFi sound and rock-solid wireless in a smart system that is easy to set-up, control and expand.
This advanced yet simple to use wireless music system includes Spotify Connect, TIDAL, UPnP, Internet Radio, USB, analogue and digital inputs. Supports WAV, FLAC and AIFF ﬁles up to 24bit/192kHz.
PRICES fROM £169
Optional orange, red or blue grille £49.95
HiFi for a wireless generation
RUARK • R4-30 • INTEgRATED MUSIC SySTEM
Comprises a multi-format CD player, aptX Bluetooth receiver, USB playback port, DAB/DAB+/FM tuners and auxiliary inputs united with a powerful 2.1 audio grade amplifier/speaker system.
Take hi-ﬁ to new heights with Bluesound’s next generation. Features improved wi-ﬁ performance, more digital and analog connectivity options and Bluetooth aptX along with support for premium music services like Tidal and Spotify. PRICES fROM £299
FOr THE lATEST pricES And OFFErS ViSiT WWW.SSAV.cOm Or cOnTAcT yOur lOcAl STOrE
Sevenoaks Sound & Vision have 24 stores nationwide with plans to open more during 2016. Each carries the best in home cinema and Hi-Fi equipment on display, ready for you to watch, listen to and compare in our dedicated demonstration rooms.
A wide selection of products from the world’s leading manufacturers is in stock and available for you to take home. We also offer a delivery and installation service as well as a convenient on-line click and reserve option for many of our products.
Please Note: Some brands/products are not available at all stores. Special/added value offers are not in conjunction with any other offer (NICWAOO). ADVERT VALID UNTIL 16/11/2016. E&OE
Our staff are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about music and ﬁlm and the equipment needed to get the most out of your collection. They will be delighted to assist you in making the right selection to ensure you enjoy your system for years to come.
Fantastic value for money is our aim. Although we remain independent, you will be pleasantly surprised just how competitive we can be - with the added beneﬁt of seeing, hearing and touching the product before you buy, and someone to help if things go wrong.
ARCAM • FMJ AvR550 • Av ReCeiveR
Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 capable AV receiver that is equally at home with high resolution surround sound or two-channel music. Also Available: ARCAM FMJ SR250 & FMJ AVR850
NEW £1399 OR LESS
DeNoN • AvR-x2300w • Av ReCeiveR
Fully loaded with the very latest audio and video technologies including Dolby Atmos up to 5.1.2 and Network Audio Streaming. Also Available: Denon AVR-X6300W
YAMAHA • YSP-2700 DiGiTAl SouND PRoJeCToR
This 7.2-channel AV Receiver supports the latest Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats along with MusicCast and HDMI 4K60p Also Available: YAMAHA RX-V381
CANToN • DM 55 • SouNDbASe
This premium quality soundbar/sub is designed for exceptional sound quality and is compatible with MusicCast, Yamaha’s new revolution in network audio.
The Canton DM 55 sets a new standard for TV sound. Intended to be positioned under a TVs pedestal stand, the DM 55 creates a convincing, room ﬁlling sound.
q ACouSTiCS • MeDiA 4 • SouNDbAR
The new Q Acoustics Media 4 is a high performance Soundbar designed to deliver high ﬁdelity reproduction of music, and high quality audio from a TV or set top box, tablets and smartphones.
DeNoN • AvR-x3300w • Av ReCeiveR
7.2-channel receiver with Dolby Atmos, Spotify Connect support, Bluetooth, AirPlay and DSD streaming. Also Available: Denon AVR-X4300W
YAMAHA • Rx-A3060 • Av ReCeiveR
Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS-X playback with along with 11.2-channel expandability for an unmatched 3D AV experience. Also Available: YAMAHA RX-A660 & RX-A1060
YAMAHA • YAS-306 • SouNDbAR
MusicCast compatible soundbar featuring a stylish design. It delivers powerful 7.1ch surround sound and generous bass from its two built-in subwoofer units.
NEW £1999 OR LESS
YAMAHA • Rx-v581 • Av ReCeiveR
PioNeeR • SC-lx701 • Av ReCeiveR
New 9.2-channel Network AV receiver with Dolby Atmos, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth and Hi-Res audio playback. Also Available: pioneeR SC-LX901
YAMAHA • YSP-5600 • DiGiTAl SouND PRoJeCToR
3D sound reproduction equivalent to 7.1.2 channels realised using Yamaha’s unique Digital Sound Projector technology to let you enjoy movies and music with thrilling 3D surround sound. Includes Yamaha’s MusicCast functionality.
SoNoS • PlAYbAR SouNDbAR & wiReleSS SPeAKeR
This plug-and-play unit incorporates 9 integrated ampliﬁed speakers. Simply connect it to your TV with the supplied optical cable to deliver an epic home cinema sound in your own living room. PLAYBAR can also expand your existing Sonos system.
£1699 OR LESS
£2199 OR LESS
ARCAM • Solo Movie • HoMe CiNeMA SYSTeM
KeF • R100 5.1 • SPeAKeR PACKAGe
Comprises four R100 speakers, an R200C centre speaker and R400B active subwoofer. Great for both home cinema and music.
b&w • MT- 50 • SPeAKeR PACKAGe
This system swaps the PV1D for the compact but punchy ASW608 Subwoofer. Available in matt black or white.
Featuring a BD/DVD/SACD/CD drive and 250W of breathtaking Class G ampliﬁcation in a stylish, low-resonance enclosure, the Solo movie provides high-quality room-ﬁlling sound. Four HDMI, coax, optical, phono and 3.5mm line inputs allow for ﬂexible system building without being over complex.
PSb • iMAGiNe x DolbY ATMoS SPeAKeR PACKAGe 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos package comprising PSB Imagine X1T ﬂoorstanders; XC centre speaker; XB compact speakers and XA Dolby Atmos enabled speakers. True-to-nature sound is the design goal of all PSB Speakers. Imagine X brings a new level of realism to these affordable speakers applying the latest speaker materials and technology.
A fantastic option for movie lovers who want an incredible cinematic experience at home, far beyond the reach of TV.
SoNY • vPl-vw320eS • 4K SxRD PRoJeCToR
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FOR THE LATEST OTIONS AND PRICES OM PR TV VISIT WWW.SSAV.COM UE65KS9000 • 65” CURVED 4K UHD TV Optimum curved screen with auto depth enhancer delivering a deeper, wider, clearer viewing experience. The curved screen surrounds you while Samsung’s Auto Depth Enhancer technology creates a greater depth of image. The curved screen also offers a wider field of view bringing the corners closer to you providing a clearer view with ultimate levels of detail. Optimal screen curvature means the curve radius is customised by screen size allowing you to lose yourself completely in the immersive viewing experience.
Ask in-store for the latest promotion
49 55 78
FREE 5 YEAR WARRANTY
NEW KD-65ZD9 • 65” 4K UHD ANDROID TV The Sony Bravia ZD9 is a 4K HDR TV with spectacular image quality and a beautiful design. It also comes with the Android TV platform, that includes all your favourite apps and online features.
OLED55E6V • 55” 4K UHD OLED TV OLED’s next generation pixel construction allows for unique screen architecture which is so light and thin it can be bonded to a transparent piece of glass. This stunning television produces an incredible picture with inﬁnite contrast that is complimented by an innovative sound bar stand that produces superb audio. A masterful television from LG’s award winning OLED TV range.
FREE 5 YEAR WARRANTY
Ask in-store for the latest promotion
SAMSUNG • UE55KS7000 • 55” 4K UHD TV Also Available
FREE 5 YEAR WARRANTY
Experienceincrediblecontrast,real-lifecoloursandexceptional 4K detail with the new 4K High Dynamic Range technology. Whetheryou’rewatchingamovieoraregularbroadcast,4KHDR brings you close to reality, thanks to Sony’s unique technology. Ask in-store for the latest promotion
FREE 5 YEAR WARRANTY
PANASONIC • TX-58DX902 • 58” 4K UHD TV Also Available
FREE 5 YEAR WARRANTY
SONY • KD-55XD9305 • 55” 4K UHD ANDROID TV Also Available
FREE 5 YEAR WARRANTY
SAMSUNG • UBD-K8500 • 4K UHD BLU-RAY PLAYER
PANASONIC • DMP-UB900 • 4K UHD BLU-RAY PLAYER Premium player that features playback of Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray discs, HDR playback and 4K content from Netﬂix and other streaming providers.
Play and stream anything you can imagine in superb quality, with 4K upscaling up to 60p and HighResolution Audio.
Also Available: SAMSUNG BD���500
Also Available: PANASONIC DMP�BDT380
Also Available: SONY BDP�S�200
Delivers stunning UHD 4K resolution while its sleek, curved design matches seamlessly with any Samsung Curved SUHD TV.
SONY • UHP-H1 • BLU-RAY PLAYER
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Please Note: Some brands/products are not available at all stores. Special/added value offers are not in conjunction with any other offer (NICWAOO). ADVERT VALID UNTIL 16/11/2016. E&OE
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select summer 2016
the sounds, the scenes and the sensations
award winner s
olympic Tion, 4K TVs, amplifica g, speaKers, sTreamin... blu-ray, wireless and more
Read Sevenoaks e Select digital interactive magazine today!
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Stereo amps up to £500
The only products worth considering
THE BEATING HEART OF YOUR HI-FI SYSTEM
Marantz PM6006 £400 Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Another fine amplifier from Marantz, it’s a clear improvement over the PM6005, our only disappointment is the scarcity of digital sources. Power 45W Inputs 5 line-in, MM Outputs headphone AWARD WINNER
Onkyo A-9010 £230 Best stereo amplifier under £300, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Our favourite budget amplifier, this is arguably the most entertaining affordable amp around. It has agility and a wicked sense of rhythm. Power 44W Inputs 5 line-in, MM Outputs speaker, headphone
Arcam FMJ A19 £600 May 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Arcam’s entry-level amplifier is a terrific combination of sensible features, fine build and entertaining sound. Power 50W Inputs 6 line-in, MM Outputs Speaker, headphone, preamp
Cambridge Audio CXA60 £500
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£500 to £1000
Best stereo amplifier £300-£700, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
£1000 to £3000
Roksan Caspian M2 £1900 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
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
Preamps up to £9000
GamuT D3i £6150 January 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
This GamuT D3i is a brilliant performer with excellent detail and superb transparency. It isn’t packed with inputs, but will cope with most set-ups. Inputs 3 line-in Output Balanced, single-ended DAC No
Preamps £9000 and above
Burmester 808 MK5 £22,242 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
AUDIOPHILE GRADE BASS RESPONSE WITHOUT A SUBWOOFER
The new Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR £999
The PULSE SOUNDBAR delivers a high-res audio experience that brings any soundtrack to life in vivid, cinematic detail. Created by world-renowned speaker Paul Barton, the PULSE SOUNDBAR features clear, 24-bit resolution sound and audiophile grade bass response - without a subwoofer. It’s also the first soundbar designed to stream original studio master files (MQA) for an unprecedented spatial experience of sound texture and realism. This is the soundbar your TV deserves. ADVERT VALID UNTIL 16/11/2016. E&OE
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Other brands available include:
5 YEAR WARRANTY
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£9000 and above
AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED 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
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
CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS GET THE RIGHT PLAYER AND CD CAN STILL SHINE Cambridge Audio CXC £300 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 CD6006 £400 Best CD player under £500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The price may have gone up, but several upgrades have contributed to a CD player that, overall, is an improvement on its predecessor. Type CD player Outputs Coaxial, optical, RCA, headphone
Onkyo C-N7050 £350 April 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A CD player or a hi-res music streamer? Whatever it is, the C-N7050 is a hugely appealing system that combines the best of both worlds. Type CD player/streamer Outputs Optical, coaxial, line level
Cyrus CD i £995
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£500 to £1000
Best CD player £500+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Cyrus says this player is its best-sounding yet, and after listening to how confident and entertaining it sounds, it’s tough to disagree. Type CD player Outputs Coaxial, optical, RCA
Cyrus CD t £750 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£1000 to £1500
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
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
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 122 www.whathifi.com
CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS CONTINUED £1000 to £1500
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, combining 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 hefty, well-built piece of hi-fi. The sense of scale and composure is impressive; as is its powerful, yet articulate bass. Type CD player Outputs Coax, opt, XLR, RCA Inputs Coax, opt, USB
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
CD6006 CD PL AYER
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Other brands available include:
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CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS CONTINUED
£10,000 and above
Burmester 089 £13,320 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
DACS A DIGITAL-TO-ANALOGUE CONVERTER IS A MODERN HI-FI MUST Arcam miniBlink £90 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Audioquest DragonFly Black £90
Best USB DAC under £100, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Cheaper, 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
Audioquest DragonFly Red £170
Best USB DAC £100+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A 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 under £500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 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 124 www.whathifi.com
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
D CS CONTINUED DACS Best DAC £500-£1000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
£500 to £1000
Chord 2Qute £995
Chord Hugo £1400 Best DAC £1000+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
£1000 to £3000
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
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 £8000
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£2000 and above
Best Temptation, Awards 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
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
MUSIC STREAMERS THE BEST WAY TO SHARE YOUR TUNES AROUND THE HOUSE Bluesound Node 2 £435 November 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 AWARD WINNER
Best music streamer under £100, Awarda 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
Pioneer N-50A £380
Up to £500
Google Chromecast Audio £30
Best music streamer £100-£500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 www.whathifi.com 125
£500 to £1000
MUSIC STREAMERS CONTINUED AWARD WINNER
Cambridge Audio CXN £700 Best music streamer £500-£1000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Cambridge Audio Azur 851N £1200
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£1000 to £2000
Best music streamer £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Cyrus Stream Xa £1250 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Naim NAC-N272 £3400 £2000 to £5000
November 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A talented unit that combines a capable preamp with a terrific music streamer, it delivers a top-class sound with an extensive feature list. DLNA Yes Inputs 3 x line, 3 x coaxial, 3 x optical Storage No AWARD WINNER
Naim ND5 XS £2250 Best streamer £2000+, Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A forward-thinking design from an established hi-fi company. A brilliant sonic performance and a must-have if you’re after a do-it-all streamer. DLNA Yes Inputs USB, coaxial, optical Storage No
£5000 and above
Burmester Musiccenter 151 £12,500 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
RADIOS ONE OF THE OLDEST ENTERTAINMENT TECHS, STILL GOING STRONG Pure Evoke D2 £90
Up to £200
Best radio under £100, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 126 www.whathifi.com
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
RADIOS CONTINUED 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 January 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Revo SuperConnect £280
£200 and above
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 AWARD WINNER
Best radio £200+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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, B’tooth
STEREO SPEAKERS THEY BRING THE MUSIC TO YOUR EARS – SO CHOOSE WITH CARE Eclipse TD-M1 £800 August 2014 ★★ ★ ★
KEF Egg £350
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
Best desktop speaker, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Our 2015 Best Desktop Speaker Over £200 have a distinctive design and flexible connectivity – and a stunning, consistent performance. Size (hwd) 27 x 13 x 17cm Powered Yes Finishes 3 AWARD WINNER
Best floorstander £500-£1000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 3 £300 Best floorstander under £500, Awards 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 £550
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 www.whathifi.com 127
Enjoy low internet-beating prices, face-to-face expert advice from our friendly teams, extensive ranges on display and in our demonstration rooms, plus exclusive VIP Club member in-store-only deals. Chris, Deputy Manager, Leeds. 12th year of service
We have the award-winners at the
Lowest price guaranteed Products must be brand new, with a similar guarantee and in stock. Ask in-store for full T&Cs.
Hi-fi a selection from our massive range
VIP Exclusive: Buy these speakers and save £50 on any amp over £250. Ask in-store for more details.
VIP Exclusive: Buy this amp and save £50 on any speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.
VIP Exclusive: Buy this turntable and get £50 off any amp over £300. Ask in-store for details.
Mission speakers (pair) LX2 (black)
Onkyo stereo ampliﬁer A9010
Denon mini system exc. speakers DM40 DAB (black)
Audio Technica USB turntable LP5
“The most convincing Mission product we’ve heard in years and one of the best budget speakers around.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Excellent value and one of the most musically satisfying budget ampliﬁers we’ve heard in recent years.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Denon has done it again - the DM40DAB is a seriously impressive micro system for the money.” – What Hi-Fi?
“With the added bonus of a USB output, there’s nothing better at this price.” – What Hi-Fi?
Call or see web
6 Year Supercare £22.90
6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price Also available in silver
6 Year Supercare £34.90
VIP Exclusive: Buy this receiver and save £100 on speakers over £300. Ask in-store for details.
VIP Exclusive: Buy this CD player and save £50 on any amp over £300. Ask in-store for more details.
Chord Electronics portable USB DAC/ headphone amp Mojo
Marantz CD player CD6006
Arcam stereo ampliﬁer A19
Onkyo network stereo receiver TX8150
”Even at this price we have to conclude that it’s a bargain, and that makes it our Product of the Year.” – What Hi-Fi?
“There’s a tangible sense of performance that nominal rivals (of which there are few at this price) can’t quite match.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Its staggeringly open sound is wonderful to hear at this price.” – What Hi-Fi?
“An enjoyable performance from this featurepacked and affordable Onkyo streaming system that can play it all.” – What Hi-Fi?
VIP Club price
6 Year Supercare £39.90 | Available in the majority of stores. Check richersounds.com for more details.
6 Year Supercare £39.90
RRP £649 | Regular low price £599 | 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price | Hurry, last few!
6 Year Supercare £54.90
Why not add? TheChordCo.speakercable Clearway un-terminated
The Chord Co. interconnect C-Line (0.5m)
QED interconnect Reference Audio 40 (1m)
Audioquest speaker cable Type 4 Terminated 2m pair
More in every store
6 Year Supercare available SUPERCARE
(For hi-ﬁ and home cinema components)
Just £9.99 for products under £100 and 10% of purchase price on products over £100. Plus, if you don’t use it, it needn’t cost you a penny! Call or ask in-store for more details.
“Experience better audio performance. Pop down to hear how a top-notch system enhances your favourite music in our comfortable demonstration rooms.” Dawn, Deputy Manager, Lichﬁeld store. 5th year of service
Cambridge Audio CX & Monitor Audio Bronze 2 speakers (pair) • CXA60 ampliﬁer “A great ampliﬁer that looks and sounds the part – this Cambridge is a big success.” – What Hi-Fi? Regular price £499.95 | 6Yr Supercare only £49.95
• CXN network music player “A stylish, feature–packed streamer that sounds great.” – What Hi-Fi? Regular price £699.95 | 6Yr Supercare only £69.95
• CXC CD transport “We would not hesitate to recommend the Cambridge CXC.” – What Hi-Fi? Regular price £299.95 | 6Yr Supercare only £29.95
• Bronze 2 (black) "This latest generation of Bronze 2 is arguably the best yet.” – What Hi-Fi? Regular price £279
RRP £1778.85 | 6 Year Supercare 10% of CX range price | All items available in other colours
Arcam ampliﬁer & CD player / music streamer A29 & CDS27
Audiolab ampliﬁer & CD player 8300A & 8300CD
Roksan ampliﬁer & CD player K3 Amp & K3 CDDI
A29: “An appealing mix of muscle and reﬁnement.” – What Hi-Fi?
8300A: “Build is excellent and its large-scale sound gives it an edge over many rivals.” – What Hi-Fi?
K3 Amp: “Roksan is back on its A-game with the K3, which is nothing short of a superb amp for the price.” – What Hi-Fi?
6 Year Supercare £84.90
CDS27: “Ease of use, a nice balance, fair amount of detail and dynamic range.” – What Hi-Fi?
| 6 Year Supercare £69.90
| 6 Year Supercare £89.90
8300CD: “A useful machine and a capable, polished performer.” – What Hi-Fi?
| 6 Year Supercare £99.90 Audiolab available in selected stores. Check richersounds.com for more details.
Q Acoustics speakers (pair) 3050 (walnut) “So talented, they can give speakers closer to £1000 a real run for their money - a brilliant pair of budget ﬂoor standers…” – What Hi-Fi?
| 6 Year Supercare £124.90
K3 CDDI: “Another ﬁve-star product worthy of its place in the K3 range.” – What Hi-Fi?
| 6 Year Supercare £129.90 Amp & CD player also available in anthracite or opium.
Cambridge Audio power ampliﬁer & network music player / pre-amp 851W & 851N 851W: “Fantastic sound. The best sounding amp.“ – richersounds.com customer review.
| 6 Year Supercare £149.95
851N: “Knockout Cambridge streamer, whose performance more than justiﬁes the premium price tag.” – What Hi-Fi?
£ .95 | 6 Year Supercare £119.95 Amp & network music player also available in silver
VIP Exclusive: Buy this system and save £150 on speakers over £500. Ask in-store for details.
VIP Exclusive: Buy these speakers and save £100 on any amp over £500. Ask in-store for more details.
Audiolab DAC M-Dac Plus
Arcam one-box streaming system exc. speakers Solo Music
“Lavishly detailed, fastidiously organised and elegantly straight-edged in its sound, it absolutely demands an audition.” – What Hi-Fi?
“A well-made, well-featured and solidsounding product, the Arcam Solo Music is indeed a complete one-box stereo system.” – What Hi-Fi?
Cyrus one-box streaming system & Tannoy speakers (pair) Lyric Stealth & Revolution XT 6F (dark walnut) A great CD player with fantastic features, which sounds amazing paired with the award-winning Tannoy XT 6Fs.
Available in other colours
6 Year Supercare £79.90
6 Year Supercare £159.90
RRP £3499 | 6 Year Supercare 10% of Cyrus purchase price | Speakers also available in oak
Our VIP Club is completely FREE for ALL customers. Sign up in-store or online in seconds with just an email address. *Lowest Price Guaranteed, we'll beat any genuine advertised price, voucher offer or system deal, online & in-store, by up to £100. Products must be brand new, with a similar guarantee and in stock. Further T&Cs apply.
Experience better sound on the move
SoundMAGIC in-ear E10C
AKG on-ear wireless Y50BT
Sennheiser over-ear noise cancelling wireless Momentum 2 AEBT
Shure over-ear SRH1540
“A unique universal in-line remote sees the best get even better.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Bluetooth headphones that sound just as good as their wired counterparts.” – What Hi-Fi?
“These headphones look stylish, offer great functionality and sound superb.” – What Hi-Fi?
“You only need a moment with them to appreciate their dynamic, detailed sound.” – What Hi-Fi?
Call or see web
Streaming & hi-res audio “ “Enjoy great quality music at home or out and about. Our range of wireless speakers and hi-res audio players will make your music sound incredible, no matter where you are.” Josh, Deputy Manager, Chelsea. 6th year of service
DALI portable speaker KATCH (Dark Shadow)
Astell and Kern portable hi-res audio player AK70
Naim wireless music speaker Mu-so Qb
Naim wireless music speaker Mu-so
“This DALI delivers a smooth and engaging sound with no match.” – What Hi-Fi?
“The AK70 sounds simply superb... Oodles of detail and plenty of drive. A very impressive music player.“ – trustedreviews.com
“A small speaker with big personality, the Qb combines style, substance and a whole lot of features at a more affordable price.“ – What Hi-Fi?
“Naim’s ﬁrst entry into the wireless speaker market, and it’s an absolute belter.” – What Hi-Fi?
HOT NEW PRODUCT
HOT NEW PRODUCT
6 Year Supercare £59.50
6 Year Supercare £89.50
Sonos The What Hi-Fi? award-winning multiroom system from Sonos enables music throughout the home. From the most compact PLAY:1 in the kitchen, larger PLAY:3 and PLAY:5s in the study and lounge, to complete surround sound systems, Sonos has a solution.
SUB GEN 2
Also available in white
Also available in white
SUB HOT NEW PRODUCT
Also available in white
Samsung Wireless Audio 360 speakers
With 12 months Deezer Music
Claim Deezer Premium+ code when you buy selected Samsung multiroom products. Ask in-store for more details.
R1 starter kit offer
“Sound quality is excellent from such a small unit. They’re also very quick and easy to set up.” – richersounds.com customer review.
“A stylish, innovative and great-sounding speaker that takes multiroom technology to new heights.” – trustedreviews.com
HEOS 3 HS2
HEOS 5 HS2
RRP £338 Also available in ivory
Also available in white
With 12 months Deezer Music
HEOS “Heos proves to be an exciting new product.“ – hiﬁchoice.com
Get a demo in one of our 53 stores nationwide, or visit us at richersounds.com for more info
HEOS 7 HS2
249 £349 £379 £
Were £499 from 22.01.16
TVs Latest ranges TV
“E “Experience better image quality. 4K, UHD Premium and HDR will blow you away with the stunningly realistic detail they produce. Don’t miss out on the best new TVs.” Stephen, Manager, Reading. 6th year of service
Samsung 65" curved UHD Premium HDR Smart LED TV UE65KS9000 “We’re really not overstating it when we say that the HDR tech in these TVs is the best we’ve ever seen. The colour and brightness this TV produces is absolutely stunning.” – techradar.com “The KS9000 certainly looks every bit the ﬂagship set.” – What Hi-Fi? VIP Exclusive: Get £200 off a matching curved soundbar, and half price 4K Blu-ray player with 3 free movies when you buy this TV. Ask in-store for details. FREE 10 year screen burn warranty when you buy this TV. Ask in-store for more details.
Were £2499 from 25.08.16 Also available 49", 55" & 78"
VIP Exclusive: Get a half price 4K Blu-ray player and £100 off the HWK650/651R soundbar when you buy this TV. Ask in-store for details.
FREE 10 year screen burn warranty when you buy this TV. Ask in-store for more details.
Samsung 49" UHD Premium HDR Smart LED TV UE49KS8000
Sony 55" 4K HDR Smart 3D LED TV & soundbar BRAVIA KD55XD9305 & HTCT390
LG 55" OLED UHD Premium HDR Smart TV OLED55B6V
Sony 75" 4K HDR Smart 3D LED TV & soundbar BRAVIA KD75XD9405 & HTCT390
“A stunning all-round performance from Samsung’s ﬂagship ﬂatscreen.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Simply, there’s little of any matter that could keep us from imploring you to buy this.” – What Hi-Fi?
“The most affordable LG OLED is a joy to watch and deserves a place in your home.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Going all-out with compatibility and picture performance, Sony’s ﬂagship is the one to beat.” – What Hi-Fi?
Call or see web
Call or see web
Were £1399 from 16.06.16 Also available 55", 65" & 75"
RRP £2198 | Also available 65"
Also available 65"
6 year guarantee included
For VIP Club members on the vast majority of TVs and projectors.
Projectors VIP Exclusive: Free BDPS6700 Blu-ray player worth £135. Ask in-store for more details.
over 30 models in our range
BenQ 3D projector W3000 “Skin tones are lifelike and the whole palette pops, while maintaining a faithful balance.” – What Hi-Fi?
Sony SXRD 3D projector VPLHW45ES “For gamers and home cinema fans alike.” – trustedreviews.com
HOT NEW PRODUCT
Also available in black
Our VIP Club is completely FREE for ALL customers. Sign up in-store or online in seconds with just an email address. *Lowest Price Guaranteed, we'll beat any genuine advertised price, voucher offer or system deal, online & in-store, by up to £100. Products must be brand new, with a similar guarantee and in stock. Further T&Cs apply.
VIP Exclusive: Buy this projector and get £200 worth of Richer Sounds vouchers. Ask in-store for details.
Sony SXRD 3D projector VPLHW65ES
Sony 4K 3D projector VPLVW320ES
“The HW65ES keeps Sony’s current projector roll going in emphatic style – and proves there’s plenty of life left in HD yet.” – trustedreviews.com
“Capable of displaying stunning images. Another string to its bow is the upscaling of HD content.” – trustedreviews.com
Also available in white
AWARDS 2016 We have the award-winners at the
Lowest price guaranteed Products must be brand new, with a similar guarantee and in stock. Ask in-store for full T&Cs.
dozens more in store
“Experience better TV sound by adding a soundbar, sound base or home cinema system. We have something for everyone.” Ben, Store Manager, Birmingham. 10th year of service
Canton TV sound base DM55 ”Beautifully built, sounds gorgeous, and it’s more affordable than before – what’s not to love?” – What Hi-Fi? VIP Club price
RRP £329 | Regular low price £299 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price
Denon Atmos AV receiver AVRX2300W “It's a superb sonic all-rounder and wellequipped with it.” – What Hi-Fi? VIP Exclusive: Save £50 on any home cinema speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.
Q Acoustics TV soundbar M4
“Q Acoustics is in a rich vein of form at the moment, and the Media 4 is another excellent option.” – What Hi-Fi?
6 Year Supercare £49.90
VIP Club price
Regular low price £349 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price
VIP Exclusive: Save £50 on any home cinema speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.
VIP Exclusive: Save £50 on any home cinema speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.
VIP Exclusive: Save £50 on any home cinema speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.
Yamaha Atmos AV receiver RXV581
Onkyo Atmos AV receiver TXNR656
Denon Atmos AV receiver AVRX3300W
“The way it handles bass and sound effects is sure to whet the appetite of any home cinema fan.” – What Hi-Fi?
“Has excellent balanced sound with punchy bass and crystal-clear dialogue.” – richersounds.com customer review.
“One of the most expressive and entertaining surround amps we’ve heard in a while.” – What Hi-Fi?
6 Year Supercare £49.90 Also available in titanium
6 Year Supercare £54.90 Also available in silver
6 Year Supercare £79.90
Richer Sounds exclusive
VIP Exclusive: Save £200 on any home cinema speakers over £500. Ask in-store for more details.
HOT NEW PRODUCT
Yamaha Atmos AV receiver RXA3060
This class act combines powerful and efficient ampliﬁcation with cutting-edge networking technology.
Fully equipped with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and up to 9.2 channels to take your home cinema surround sound to new heights.
“The RXA3060 takes your home cinema experience to a whole new level.” – What Hi-Fi?
6 Year Supercare £99.90
HOT NEW PRODUCT
6 Year Supercare £139.90
HOT NEW PRODUCT
VIP Club price
VIP Exclusive: Save £250 on any home cinema speakers over £700. Ask in-store for more details.
Pioneer Atmos AV receiver SCLX�01
“This is one of the most talented multimedia players we’ve seen for the money. Well done, Sony!” – What Hi-Fi?
RRP £399 | Regular low price £359 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price
Pioneer Atmos AV receiver SCLX501
Sony Smart 3D Blu-ray player UHPH1
HOT NEW PRODUCT
6 Year Supercare £199.90
Most of our stores now offer same day local delivery. Available in-store or by phone. Please ask for more details.
Tannoy 5.1 speaker package HTS101XP "It’s a fantastic-sounding package, as practical as ever and one of the best of its kind we’ve come across.” – What Hi-Fi?
RRP £599 6 Year Supercare £34.90
We’ll help plan the perfect system for you!
No job too big or too small From simply mounting your TV to the wall to multiroom systems, or a dedicated home cinema, we can help you select the right equipment at the best prices.
Wires hidden We’ll advise as to the best location within the room, so that unsightly cables can be hidden or chased into walls.
Leon, Holborn store. 13th year of service.
Inspirational ideas Our experienced sales advisors can suggest innovative products designed to deliver dazzling sound and picture quality from discreet, living room friendly equipment, such as in-wall and in-ceiling speakers and projectors.
Health check We can visit your home or place of work to thoroughly check on the set-up of your new equipment, tweak as necessary, and answer any questions you may have, whenever suits you, for just £99.95!
Ask us for a FREE, NO OBLIGATION consultation and survey at your home or place of work today. (10 mile radius)
Premium AV separates A selection from our massive range
Panasonic 4K Blu-ray player DMPUB900
Yamaha TV soundbar YSP2700
DALI TV soundbar KUBIK ONE
Monitor Audio 5.1 package Radius R90HT1
“The future of home cinema, on disc. A sight to behold.” – What Hi-Fi?
“The most convincing surround sound experience you’ll get outside a full 5.1 system.” – What Hi-Fi?
“The design and features impress us, and we love the way it sounds. This is a gorgeous, complete package.” – What Hi-Fi?
“This package sounds wonderfully cohesive and entertaining – it’s up there with the very best at this price.” – What Hi-Fi?
VIP Club price
Regular low price £599 | 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price | Also available DMPUB700 £399
6 Year Supercare £79.90
6 Year Supercare £59.95 Also available in white or walnut
Speaker packages Best style package £ 1400-£1800 Monitor Audio Radius R90HT1
3 great ways to buy In-Store
Enjoy specialist advice, demo rooms, install services and take your bargains home today!
Call your local store, or our Telesales team on 0333 900 0093. Lines are open 9am-6pm Mon-Fri (9-7 Thu), 10-5 Sat & 12-4 Sun for the UK’s sharpest prices and next day delivery.
With Click & Collect available at www.richersounds.com you get the best prices online – guaranteed!
Visit richersounds.com for store opening times.
We stock & demo the following premium brands:
Demonstration rooms in every one of our 53 stores! Visit our website for local store details and opening times. London
Bath 0333 900 0088 Belfast 0333 900 0070 Birmingham 0333 900 0023 Bournemouth 0333 900 0058 Brighton 0333 900 0039 Bristol 0333 900 0024 Cambridge 0333 900 0053
Cardiff 0333 900 0029 Cheltenham 0333 900 0057 Chester 0333 900 0063 Eton 0333 900 0087 Edinburgh 0333 900 0026 Exeter 0333 900 0061 Glasgow 0333 900 0038
Guildford 0333 900 0050 Hanley 0333 900 0060 Hull 0333 900 0059 Leeds 0333 900 0025 Leicester 0333 900 0043 Lichﬁeld 0333 900 0089 Liverpool 0333 900 0030
London Bridge 0333 900 0021 London Bromley 0333 900 0051 London Chelsea 0333 900 0027 London Chiswick 0333 900 0055 London City 0333 900 0045 London Croydon 0333 900 0033 London Kingston 0333 900 0040
London Southgate 0333 900 0085 Swiss Cottage 0333 900 0031 London West End 0333 900 0028 Manchester 0333 900 0086 Maidstone 0333 900 0062 Middlesbrough 0333 900 0096 Milton Keynes 0333 900 0054
Newcastle 0333 900 0032 Norwich 0333 900 0046 Nottingham 0333 900 0035 Oxford 0333 900 0052 Plymouth 0333 900 0047 Preston 0333 900 0080 Prestwich 0333 900 0042
Reading 0333 900 0044 Reigate 0333 900 0081 Romford 0333 900 0041 Sheffield 0333 900 0034 Solihull 0333 900 0090 Southampton 0333 900 0036 Stockport 0333 900 0022
Tunbridge Wells 0333 900 0082 Watford 0333 900 0037 Weybridge 0333 900 0083 York 0333 900 0084 Customer Service 0333 900 0095
03 NUMBERS ARE NOT PREMIUM RATE NUMBERS! 03 numbers connect you directly to the store you call and are charged at the same rate as you are charged for numbers starting 01 and 02. 03 numbers are included in all bundle rates for mobile phones and landlines.
Some of these offers are exclusive to What Hi-Fi? readers. Please quote this ad when calling. While stocks last. Valid from 15.10.2016 - 19.11.2016 All trademarks are acknowledged. E&OE. All featured products strictly 1 per customer/household. Some offers may be for in-store callers only. All stock is brand new in sealed containers and fully guaranteed for one year unless clearly stated otherwise. 1000s more bargains in-store! RRPs are based on information supplied by What Hi-Fi?, manufacturers, Google, Which? & Pricerunner. Further information is available on request. *Lowest Price Guarantee, we'll beat any genuine advertised price, voucher offer or system deal, online & in-store, by up to £100. Products must be brand new, with a similar guarantee and in stock. Further T&Cs apply.
STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED B&W 683 S2 £1150
“Among the best floorstanders we’ve heard at this price”
October 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£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
Q Acoustics Concept 40 £1000
“Aim to give you a sound that you can happily listen to”
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
Tannoy Revolution XT 6F £1000 Best floorstander £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Few rivals will be able to match this combination of muscle and subtlety. Most of all they make listening to music fun. Size (hwd) 100 x 27 x 32cm 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”
£2000 to £5000
February 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
PMC Twenty5.23 £2970 Best floorstanders £2000+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
PMC has created a terrific pair of floorstanding speakers. Match them with a suitably talented system and they will sing for you. Size (hwd) 91 x 16 x 33cm Bi-wire No Finishes 4
“They’re beautifully finished, but more importantly they sound every bit their asking price”
“If you’re looking for a top class, compact floorstanders, we can’t think of a better alternative”
Spendor A6R £2500 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
“A fantastic pair of speakers that do so much right”
STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Spendor D7 £3500 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
Triangle Signature Delta £4900 July 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
“They’re entertainers of the highest order”
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
“Once up and running, these ATCs are deeply impressive speakers”
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
“Wonderfully polished performers that work well with all types of music”
July 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A hefty slice of the performance of Focal’s high-end Utopia range, at a fraction of the cost. Impressive detail, dynamics, bass and timing. Size (hwd) 125 x 30 x 40cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2
PMC Twenty 26 £5750
“An all-round package that’s very hard to pick holes in”
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
Marantz PM6006 & CD6006 Marantz’s new range consists of the CD6006 CD player and PM6006 stereo amplifier, both of which feature upgraded components and revamped sound quality.
HiFi & Home Cinema Specialists
£5000 and above
Focal Electra 1038Be £7700
What Hi-Fi 9 June 2016
£2000 to £5000
“Spendor has a rich history of making terrific speakers. You can count the D7s among them”
February 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£399each plus FREE Superfi Performance Audio 1m interconnect worth £44.95
also available www.whathifi.com 135
STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED ProAc Response D40/R £6125
“We could stretch this out, but we won’t: the D40/Rs are wonderful”
October 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£5000 and above
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
“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
Tannoy Kensington GR £9950
“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
Mission LX-2 £160
Best standmount speaker under £200, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Standmounters up to £300
Mission’s most convincing speaker in quite some time, the LX-2 is also one of the best budget speakers you can buy. Size (hwd) 31 x 19 x 25cm Bi-wire No Finishes 1
Monitor Audio Bronze 2 £280 Best standmount speaker £200-£400, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 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
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 £300 to £500
October 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Q Acoustic Concept 20 £350 October 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 to £1000
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
Dynaudio Emit M10 £500 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
STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED Dynaudio Emit M20 £600
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best standmount speaker £400-£800, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Best active speaker, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 to £1000
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
Revel Concerta2 M16 £950 Best standmount speaker £800-£1200, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
One of the best speakers we’ve heard below the £1000 mark. Make sure to partner well to get the best out of them. Size (hwd) 37 x 22 x 27cm Bi-wire n/a Finishes n/a
ATC SCM11 (2013) £1200
Best standmount speaker £1200-£1500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
£1000 to £1500
Neat Motive SX3 £1045 November 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
If you’re tight on space, or don’t need an overpowering sound, these articulate, fun-loving speakers should be a shoo-in for your shortlist. Size (hwd) 33 x 16 x 20cm Bi-wire No Finishes 4
ProAC Studio 118 £1075 November 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Weighty, detailed bass, lively treble and a good natural balance overall. The energy of the 118’s performance will provide hours of enjoyment. Size (hwd) 38 x 19 x 24cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4
ATC SCM19 £1995 Best standmount speaker £1500+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
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
£1500 to £3000
PMC Twenty5.22 £2495
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 www.whathifi.com 137
STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED ATC SCM20ASL Pro £4380 £3000 and above
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
Roksan Darius S1 £5000 December 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Fluid, balanced and with a solid, agile bass, the S1s are among the most enjoyable standmounters we’ve heard in years. Size (hwd) 38 x 20 x 38cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2
SYSTEMS SIMPLE DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN LOWER QUALITY AWARD WINNER
Sonos System From £175 Multi-room
Best multi-room system under £500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Bluesound Generation 2 From £540
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best multi-room system £500+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Stereo systems up to £400
Bluesound’s Generation 2 has a more streamlined design and sounds as good as ever, offering hi-res support and good connectivity. Res 24-bit/192kHz App iOS, Android Formats MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG
Denon D-M40DAB £350 Best microsystem, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Tangent Ampster X4 £300 November 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
This is a quality entry-level mini system, perfect for anyone who wants to start building a system with a greater scope. Terrifically entertaining. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Bluetooth, streaming
Revo SuperSystem £550 Best one-box system, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£400 to £800
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
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
Ruark Audio R2 Mk3 £400 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
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 138 www.whathifi.com
SYSTEMS CONTINUED £400 to £800
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
Arcam Solo Music £1600
Best hi-fi system, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Moon Neo Ace £2500
October 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£800 and above
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
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
TURNTABLES DECKS TO KEEP THE VINYL REVIVAL THRIVING
Audio Technica AT-LP5 £330
Best USB turntable, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Up to £500
Pro-Ject Essential II £210 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
Best turntable under £500, Awards 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 Up to £500
August 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 to £1000
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
Rega Planar 3/Elys 2 £625
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best turntable £500-£1000, Awards 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, 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm
Clearaudio Concept £1000
Best turntable £1000+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 RP6/Exact £1000 £1000 and above
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
Rega RP8/Apheta £2200 December 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A terrific turntable that sets standards at the price. A detailed sound delivered with superb agility, strong dynamics and exceptional precision. Speed 33.3, 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm
VPI Prime £3750 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.
WIRELESS SPEAKERS FREE YOUR MUSIC WITH ONE OF THESE STREAMING WONDERS JBL Flip 3 £100 May 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Correcting the missteps of the Flip 2, the Flip 3 boasts a smooth, warm sound as well as improved battery life and connectivity. Size (hwd) 6 x 17 x 6cm Battery Yes, up to 10 hrs playback
Up to £150
UE 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
UE Roll 2 £80 Best portable wireless speaker under £100, Awards 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, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 Charge 3 £150 November 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Harman Kardon Go + Play £250
October 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£150 to £300
A versatile wireless speaker that delivers a great sound whether indoors or out, it offers a very fine performance for the price. Size (hwd) 9 x 21 x 9cm Battery Yes, up to 20 hrs playback
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 wireless speaker under £200, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 www.whathifi.com 141
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
Dali Katch £330 Best portable wireless speaker £200+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£300 to £500
The Katch has significantly raised the bar among portable wireless speakers. Its powerful, versatile sound is just one of many highlights. Size (hwd) 14 x 27 x 5cm Battery Yes, up to 24 hrs playback
Geneva AeroSphère Small £350 Best wireless speaker £200-£500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Follows in the footsteps of its bigger ‘bulbous’ brother, sharing the same sonic charateristics but with a smaller body and a reduced price. Size (hwd) 23 x 23 x 19cm Battery No
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 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 to £800
A speaker with a big and bold character, it has a rich and engaging sound that fills the biggest of rooms. A big step in the right direction. Size (hwd) 20 x 42 x 19cm 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 wireless speaker £500-£800, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
B&O BeoPlay A6 £800 £500 to £800
February 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Oozing style and substance, the A6 effortlessly combines the simplicity and convenience of a one-box system. It’s a job fully well done. Size (hwd) 30 x 54 x 16cm Battery No
Naim Mu-So £895 Best wireless speaker £800+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 144 www.whathifi.com
BEST BUYS The only products worth considering
HOME CINEMA BLU-RAY PLAYERS
ENJOY HIGH-DEF MOVIE THRILLS
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 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 AWARD WINNER
Best Blu-ray player under £200, Awards 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 £150
Sony BDP-S7200 £180 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
Best Blu-ray player 200+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Panasonic DMP-UB900 £600 Best 4K Blu-ray player, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£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
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
£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
HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS STUNNING SOUND THAT TRULY BRINGS MOVIES TO LIFE
Sony STR-DN860 £400 Up to £500
September 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Sony proves the value of performance over the latest mod cons. No Dolby Atmos, but a thoroughly authoritative and engaging sound. Power 7 x 95W Dolby Atmos No HDMI in/out 5/1
Yamaha RX-V379 £300 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
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£500 to £1000
Best home cinema amplifier under £500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Better than the stunning AVR-X2200W; the sound has been refined, it’s 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
Denon AVR-X3300W £800
Best home cinema amplifier £500-£1000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A home cinema amp that will take your budget home cinema set-up to the next level. Its strengths are many, and weaknesses are few. Power 180W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 8/2
Yamaha RX-A1060 £1100 £1000 and above
Best home cinema amplifier £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The A1060 represents a return to form at this price for Yamaha, an expressive amp that strikes a balance between power and subtlety. Power 110W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 8/2
Yamaha RX-A3060 £2000 Best home cinema amplifier £2000+, Awards 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
BECAUSE A MASSIVE PICTURE IS HOME CINEMA
Epson EH-TW5350 £600 Best projector under £1000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A talented budget effort that handles motion, contrast and colour balance with great skill. It’s a mature and enjoyable projector. Throw ratio 1.22-1.47:1 Inputs 2 x HDMI, RCA, composite Spks Yes
PROJECTORS CONTINUED BenQ W3000 £1200 August 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Sony VPL-HW45ES £1850
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best projector £1000 to £2000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Delivers a riveting picture that strikes the perfect balance between performance and price. Great for a first projector or an upgrade. Throw ratio n/a Inputs 2 x HDMI, USB Speakers No
Sony VPL-HW65ES £3000 Best projector 2000+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Best 4K projector, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
With one eye on the future, this feature-heavy 4K and HDR projector performs superbly – if you can afford the hefty pricetag. Throw ratio n/a Inputs HDMI, LAN Speakers No
£3000 and above
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 £9000
£1000 to £3000
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 relatively modest price. Throw ratio 1.15-1.86 Inputs 2 x HDMI, PC, component Speakers Yes
SET-TOP BOXES THE BEST WAY TO ACCESS THE WORLD OF TELEVISION Humax HDR-2000T £150
Best PVR, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
We may sound like a broken record, but this fantastic digital box from Humax has plenty of features, great usability and great AV quality. Tuners 2 Storage 500GB Ultra HD No
Humax FVP-4000T £200 Catch-up TV is made supremely easy with this Freeview Play box. It’s a comprehensive entertainment hub with minimum fuss. Tuners 3 Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No
March 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Humax HDR-1100S £190 to £270 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 ★★ ★ ★
Sky+HD 2TB free or £250
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 one for sports fans. Tuners 2 Storage 1TB Ultra HD Yes
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 www.whathifi.com 147
SET-TOP BOXES CONTINUED Sky Q 2TB from £44/month + fees
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best subscription box, Awards 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
SOUNDBARS AN IMPRESSIVE WAY TO IMPROVE YOUR TV’S SOUND
Philips HTL5140 £270 Up to £500
December 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Insightful, balanced and unobtrusive, this slimline package will suit almost any set-up. Comfortably deserving of its five-star status. Size 5 x 104 x 7cm Inputs Coax, optical, USB, analogue Sub Yes
Q Acoustics Media 4 £330
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best soundbar under £500, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£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
SOUNDBASES AN ALTERNATIVE SOURCE OF SUPERIOR TV SOUND Cambridge Audio TV5 £250 Up to £500
June 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The TV5 shares its TV2 sibling’s rich presentation, but with an extra driver and bigger chassis there’s better detail, clarity and dynamics. Size (hwd) 10 x 73 x 34cm Inputs Optical
Canton DM55 £330 Best soundbase, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 148 www.whathifi.com
SOUNDBASES CONTINUED Geneva Model Cinema £550 June 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 and above
This premium soundbase has a big, balanced and authoritative sound, with detail and dynamic insight in spades. It’s worth the extra spend. Size (hwd) 10 x 70 x 35cm Inputs Optical, coaxial
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
SPEAKER PACKAGES GOOD SURROUND SOUND IS A MOVIE-MAGIC MUST
Style packages up to £1000
Q Acoustics Q7000i £900 November 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Got £900 to spend on a sub/sat package? Spend it here. This compact set creates a cohesive and expansive soundfield, with strong bass. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 12 x 20 x 16cm Finishes 2
Tannoy HTS-101 XP £600 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The latest incarnation of a multiple winner has a sonic character that retains its fast, spacious quality, but with extra detail and solidity. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 19 x 10 x 11cm Finishes 1
B&W MT-50 £1100 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 speaker package under £1000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Q Acoustics 3000 Series 5.1 £700 July 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A budget package that makes a film’s soundtrack come across as subtle, atmospheric and detailed. This is a fun listening experience. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 15 x 43 x 20cm Finishes 5
Wharfedale Diamond 220 HCP £850 July 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Featuring one of our favourite standmounters, this package offers an excellent surround-sound experience for a reasonable price. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 17 x 47 x 27cm Finishes 7
“Continues the Q Acoustics’ tradition of punching way above its weight”
“Watching Birdman we are so immersed it is easy to imagine we are backstage in a Manhattan theatre”
Traditional packages up to £2000
Why did it win an Award? Because of its punchy dynamics, abundance of detail, expression, articulation and impressive integration. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 16 x 44 x 29cm Finishes 3
Monitor Audio Bronze B5 AV £1500
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best speaker package £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
“This may be the easiest £1500 you’ll ever spend”
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
ATC C1 5.1 £3250
Traditional packages £2000 and above
Best speaker package £2000+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 16 x 41 x 28cm Finishes 2
KEF R100 5.1 £2850 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
“There aren’t many speaker packafes as exciting as this one. It will transform your movies and music”
Monitor Audio Silver 6 AV12 £2875 June 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
With terrific build and finish, and a fine degree of insight and precision in the sound, these speakers work together seamlessly. A top-notch package Size (hwd) Centre speaker 19 x 50 x 24cm Finishes 6
PMC Twenty 23 5.1 £8240 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
VIDEO STREAMERS DON’T RESTRICT STREAMING TO A LAPTOP – GET IT ON THE TELLY
Up to £50
“For small to medium-sized rooms, we can think of no better alternative”
Up to £500
Up to £2000
SPEAKER PACKAGES CONTINUED
Google Chromecast 2 £30 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
“No doubt worth every penny of its asking price”
“Stick with the PMCs and you’ll be rewarded with an incredible surround-sound experience”
VIDEO STREAMERS CONTINUED Up to £50
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
Best video streamer, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£50 to £150
An improvement on the first Fire TV. For the same money you get 4K streaming, greater speed and power, and expanded storage options. Resolution Ultra HD, 1080p, 720p Storage 8GB Ultra HD Yes
Roku 3 £100 March 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Super-slick operational speeds and a plethora of content make Roku’s latest entry to its established streaming catalogue the best we’ve seen. Resolution 1080p, 720p Storage opt, 2GB microSD Ultra HD No
PlayStation 4 (500GB) £300 February 2014 ★★ ★ ★
£150 and above
With stacks of smart music and movie apps plus solid performance, Sony’s latest is a must-have for gamers and entertainment-seekers alike. Resolution 1080p, 720p Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No
Xbox One (500GB) £300 January 2014 ★★ ★ ★
This hugely ambitious console isn’t without imperfections, and it might need time to realise its potential. For now it’s a very good games console. Resolution 1080p, 1080i, 720p Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No
TELEVISIONS MAKE THE FOCUS OF YOUR ENTERTAINMENT HUB A GOOD ONE
A HD-ready TV might seem behind the times, but when the picture performance is this good, we can’t complain. Type LCD/LED HDMI 2 Resolution 1366 x 768 Tuner Freeview HD
Panasonic TX-40DX600B £500
Up to 40in
Sony KDL-32WD603 £300 Best 32-39in TV, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Best 40-46in TV, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Ideal for those with limited space, this affordable 40in TV offers an appealing experience, but doesn’t feature HDR. Type LCD/LED HDMI 2 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD/Play
August 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
This good-looking telly is a great advert for smaller-screen 4K, offering a fine picture and a good stack of features with it. It’s £700 well spent. Type LCD/LED HDMI 3 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD
40in to 50in
Panasonic TX-40CX680B £700
Samsung UE40JU7000 £880 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
You don’t need a huge screen to appreciate the benefits of a 4K pic. This sleek 40in set combines features, functionality and performance. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD www.whathifi.com 151
TELEVISIONS CONTINUED Samsung UE49KS8000 £1300
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
40in to 50in
Best 47-52in TV, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
This Samsung manages to squeeze a lot of tech into a sub-50in screen. It’s by far the best Samsung flatscreen we’ve seen in 2016. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD
Samsung UE48JU7000 £1250 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 £1300 Best 52-50in TV under £2000, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Offering remarkable quality at a reasonable price, the picture on this SUHD TV is consistently excellent across different resolutions. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD
LG OLED55C6V £2300 Best 52-60in TV 2000+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
LG’s latest OLED looks to the future (Dolby Vision, HDR10) but in the here and now it boasts a rich, detailed picture with impressive blacks. Type OLED HDMI 3 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 £4600
Best 65in TV £3000+, Awards 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 £2500 Best 65in TV under £3000, Awards 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 maximise compatibility and picture performance. As good as it gets. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD 152 www.whathifi.com
BEST BUYS The only products worth considering
BIN THE BUNDLED BUDS, AND INVEST IN BETTER SOUND
Best in-ears under £50, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The C stands for compatibility but could stand for consistency too. Five years in and these in-ears are still as good as they’ve ever been. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.2m
Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi £80 Best in-ears £50-£100, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
In-ears up to £50
SoundMagic E10C £40
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£50 to £100
You wouldn’t think anything so small could sound quite so good – not for just £80. But they are 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 £230 Best in-ears £100-£300, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
AKG N40 £350
Best in-ears £300+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Shure KSE1500 £2500 November 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 and above
They sound great, however, you’ll need a decent portable DAC and hi-res tracks to make the most of it, so they’re not for the casual user. In-line controls No Cable length 1.2m
At that price they won’t be for everyone, but they are the finest in-ears we’ve heard and arguably one of the best headphones money can buy. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.3m www.whathifi.com 153
HEADPHONES CONTINUED Philips SHB8850NC £90
Best noise-cancelling headphones under £100, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A fantastic pair of noise-cancelling headphones that offer great sound and features, without making a huge dent in your wallet. Quoted battery life 16 hours
Bose QuietComfort 35 £290 August 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The latest QuietComforts benefit from being truly wireless and from a switch to rechargeable batteries. The best just got better. Quoted battery life 20 hours (wireless), 40 hours (wired)
Sony MDR-1000X £330
Best noise-cancelling £100+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The noise-cancelling performance is among the best we’ve heard, while the audio is beautifully balanced and the features useful. Quoted battery life 20 hours (NC on), 22 hours (NC off )
AKG K451 £50
On-ears up to £100
October 2012 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
AKG K92 £50
Best home on-ears under £100, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
They look a little blingy but a smooth, detailed sound and excellent build quality make the K92s one of 2016’s best-value headphones. Type Closed Connection 3.5/6.3mm Weight 200g
AKG Y50 £50
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best portable on-ears under £100, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 £130
Best home on-ears £100-£200, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£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, as they’re very leaky. Type Open Connection 3.5mm/6.5mm Weight 363g
Philips Fidelio M1Mk2 £120 Best portable on-ears £100-£200, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£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 £300
Best home on-ears £200-£400, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£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+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£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
Shure SRH1540 £400 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Once the music starts you’ll focus on the expansive, beautifully balanced sound. There’s agility, enthusiasm and genuine musicality too. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 286g
Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z £600 September 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation £850 Best home on-ears £400+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£500 to £1000
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
AKG K812 £1100 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
Sennheiser HD800S £1200 June 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£1000 and above
October 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 www.whathifi.com 155
HEADPHONES CONTINUED Wireless up to £300
AKG Y50BT £130
Best wireless headphone under £200, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
B&W P5 Wireless £230
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best wireless headphones £200-£300, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
All the characteristics of the P5 Series 2 without the wire. The Bluetooth connection works well and the sound is as good as the Series 2. Folding Yes Quoted battery life 17hrs Wireless range n/a
B&W P7 Wireless £320
£300 and above
Best wireless headphones £300+, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
We expect high standards from B&W and the P7 Wireless meets them. Stylish, easy to use with good audio quality, they are very impressive. Folding Yes Quoted battery life 17hrs Wireless range n/a
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless £380 Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS TREAT YOUR TUNES TO A DEDICATED MUSIC PLAYER Apple iPod Touch (6th Gen) 128GB £330 Up to £400
December 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
“There’s still life in the iPod Touch yet”
There’s life in the iPod Touch yet. Its price and talent with CD-quality music makes it a worthy challenge to pricier rivals with hi-res audio. Hi-res compatible No Weight 88g Storage128GB
Sony NW-AH25N £240
“Stays composed as the music becomes complex and never sounds edgy or harsh”
February 2016 ★★ ★ ★
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 AK70 £500 Best portable music player, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£400 to £700
The AK70 is even better than the AK Jr. Improved sound, more features and a better interface make this an easy recommendation Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 132g 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 156 www.whathifi.com
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
“The sonic improvements over the Jr are more evolutionary than revolutionary” “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 September 2015 ★★ ★ ★
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
“It’s a master at picking out the detail and nuance in music”
£700 and above
Sony NW-ZX2 £950
SMARTPHONES SUPERB MUSIC AND VIDEO PLAYERS THAT MAKE PHONE CALLS TOO
“As you’d expect from Apple, it all works perfectly”
The iPhone 6S packs class-leading audio and video performances, a faster processor, better camera and the intuitive 3D Touch feature. OS iOS Size (hwd) 138 x 67 x 7mm Storage 16/64/128GB
Apple iPhone 6S Plus January 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
The best big screen iPhone yet, we heartily recommend this if you have deep pockets and are looking for a fantastic multimedia device. OS iOS Size (hwd) 158 x 78 x 7mm Storage 16/64/128GB
LG G5 (with Hi-Fi Plus DAC)
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best smartphone, Awards 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
July 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
HTC bounces back with a superb effort that 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
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
It’s pricey, but with a performance this good and a design this gorgeous, we’d pay up. 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
“A confident performer and a desirable phone in its own right”
“LG G5 with Hi-Fi Plus by B&O Play may be a mouthful, but it is the complete package”
“HTC has focused on the core functionality and we think it has got the focus absolutely spot on”
Apple iPhone 6S Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
“There’s no doubt that this is the big-screen phone to opt for right now”
“Samsung’s made careful tweaks to an already great phone, making it one of the best you can buy”
STREAMING APPS & SERVICES THE BEST WAY TO GET YOUR STREAMING FIX
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
On demand video
BBC iPlayer Free Awards 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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On demand video
STREAMING APPS CONTINUED 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 ★★ ★ ★
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
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best video streaming service, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 ★★ ★ ★
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
Spotify from free July 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Tidal from £10/month Best music streaming service, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 160 www.whathifi.com
TABLETS TOUCHSCREEN HEAVEN, WITH LAPTOP SMARTS
Apple iPad mini 4 from £320 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
Apple iPad Air 2 from £400
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Best tablet, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
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)
Denon AVRX2300 & AVRX 3300 No revolution, but the AVR�X2300W didn’t need to be. It’s a superb sonic all-rounder and well-equipped with it.
What Hi-Fi 3 June 2016
The brilliant Denon AVR�X3300W will take any mid-range home cinema system to the next level... What Hi-Fi 29 July 2016
HiFi & Home Cinema Specialists
also available www.whathifi.com 161
BEST BUYS The only products worth considering
ACCESSORIES ANALOGUE INTERCONNECTS
DON’T SKIMP ON CABLES: THEY’RE A TOP-VALUE UPGRADE
Atlas Element Integra £45 November 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Up to £50
An Award-winner three years on the trot, this cable digs up detail and isn’t fussy about the kit it’s used with. A great first upgrade. Balanced/Single Single
Chord Company C-Line £45
Best analogue interconnect, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
Heos 7 First impressions are very good indeed. The HEOS 7 is a seriously powerful speaker that’s capable of some real volume and impressive bass weight, thanks to that subwoofer. What Hi-Fi 4 June 2015
RRP: £499 SAVE: £120
HiFi & Home Cinema Specialists
SPEAKER CABLES CONTINUED £50 and above
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 HI-FI KIT CAN ONLY SOUND ITS BEST WITH THE PROPER SUPPORT
“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 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 AWARD WINNER
Atacama Evoque Eco 60-40 SE £525
“If you’re of the opinion all hi-fi racks are created more or less equal, think again”
Best equipment rack, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
£500 to £800
“We were impressed by how our system performed when using this rack”
March 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Up to £500
Atacama Eris Eco 5.0 £460
Evoque Eco 60-40 Special Edition Based on the “2014 best equipment support” award winning Evoque Eco 60-40, the Special Edition incorporates significant sonic and mechanical resonance control upgrades designed specifically for the hifi enthusiast who is looking for the ultimate in musical performance. This visually attractive and beautifully crafted British made modular support makes a stunning centrepiece and is perfect for both supporting and maximizing the performance of quality hifi equipment .
“So significantly does the Evoque Eco 60-40 Special Edition improve upon its predecessor – named best equipment rack at last year’s What Hi-Fi? Awards, no less – its effect on our reference system was evident within seconds.”
Evoque Eco 60-40
WHAT HIFI? SOUND AND VISION MAGAZINE - October 2015
www.atacama-audio.co.uk • Tel: 01455283251 www.whathifi.com 163
HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS HOW TO GET THE VERY BEST FROM YOUR CANS
Audio Technica AT-HA5050H £4500 Up to £5000
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
Pathos Aurium £850 August 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
A top-class choice for amplification, but you’ll need a source and a pair of headphones of similar quality if you want the best from it. Outputs 6.3mm, XRL, RCA Inputs XLR, 3 RCA
MAINS PRODUCTS A CLEAN POWER SOURCE IS VITAL FOR INTERFERENCE-FREE HI-FI Olson Sound Fantastic HF6 £135 September 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Up to £200
Grants a system far greater freedom of expression without sacrificing control or authority. If you can afford to, buy it without reservations. Type Block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6
Tacima CS947 £45 September 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Great value, the highlight being how well it allows for greater detail, attack and dynamics. For the price, it’s a brilliant entry-level purchase. Type Block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6
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
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. 164 www.whathifi.com
Available instore or online
MAINS PRODUCTS CONTINUED Isotek EVO Polaris + Premier cable £400 September 2015 ★★ ★ ★
£200 and above
Offers a significant improvement over just plugging your hi-fi into the wall, allowing your system to sound more positive and confident. Type Cable + block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6
Russ Andrews X6 £350 September 2015 ★★ ★ ★ ★
No matter what the source material, the X6 helps unearth a revealing, well-integrated listen, allowing your kit to be as explicit as it can be. Type Block Mains filter Yes No. of plugs 6
PHONO AMPLIFIERS EVERY RECORD DECK NEEDS A PHONO AMP
Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator £160 June 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Up to £200
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
Why you need YellO Power
E D I T I O N
High performance UK 13A mains plug Fitted with Russ Andrews 13A fuse
Flexible braided protective sheathing
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.
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.
Great value at only £60 (1m)
High performance IEC
60 DAY MONEY BACK GUARANTEE
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
PHONO AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED Rega Fono MM Mk2 £200 £200 to £1000
Best phono stage, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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 ★★ ★ ★ ★
£1000 and above
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
SPEAKER CABLES Up to £10/m
ONE OF THE MOST COST-EFFECTIVE UPGRADES YOU CAN MAKE
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
SPEAKER CABLES CONTINUED QED Ruby Anniversary Evolution £6/m March 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Up to £10/m
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
Chord Company Clearway £10/m
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
£10/m and above
Best speaker cable, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Not the flashiest cable, its strength is aiding dynamics and musicality, as well as knitting instruments together for an enjoyable experience. Single or Bi-wire Single
QED XT40 £10/m Awards 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Facilitates a detailed, balanced and authoritative sound with a full-bodied presentation that leaves competitors sounding lean. Single or Bi-wire Single
SPEAKER STANDS STANDMOUNT SPEAKERS NEED THE BEST SUPPORT YOU CAN GET
“Really good at letting a system to do its job properly”
February 2013 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Easy to assemble (we suggest you mass-load the stand), these Atacamas help produce a detailed, clear and energetic sound. Top plate size (wd) 130 x 170mm Height 60cm Fillable Yes
Atacama Moseco 6 £120 Best speaker stand, Awards 2016 ★★ ★ ★ ★
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
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
Q Acoustics 20 speaker stands £200 September 2014 ★★ ★ ★ ★
Designed with QAs’ Concept 20 speakers in mind, the clever construction and elegant design ensures other speakers give their best too. Top plate size (hd) n/a Height 66.5cm Fillable No
“The Mosecos may just be our new favourite affordable speaker stands”
“We like the warm, full-bodied and gentle sound that these slim wooden stands bring out”
£200 and above
Hi-Fi Racks Podium Slimline £120
Up to £100
Atacama Duo 6 £65
“£200 for a pair of speaker stands? When they’re this good, we don’t mind”
F O R A F U L L L I S T O F S P E C I F I C AT I O N S A N D O T H E R U S E F U L I N F O V I S I T W H AT H I F I . C O M www.whathifi.com 167
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Centrally located in the heart of the midlands, we not only offer some of the very best prices, but pride ourselves on the excellence of our service too. Why not call into our large three storey16th Century showroom for a demonstration in one of our three demo rooms where you can audition some of the world’s best analogue and digital Hi Fi and AV equipment, plus we stock one of the UK’s largest ranges of loudspeakers.
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Audio Lab ● B&W ● Cyrus ● Denon KEF ● Marantz ● Monitor Audio Onkyo ● Pioneer ● Pro-ject Rega ● Roksan ● Sonos Spendor ● Q Acoustics FULL DEMONSTRATION FACILITIES
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DEMONSTRATION AND INSTALL SERVICE AVAILABLE
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Stereo systems for sale Linn Zonda turntable, Linn LK1 pre-amp, Linn LK280, Linn twin Nexus speakers
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The first of the firsts December 1983 – that was the first issue to feature our Awards. Thirteen pages are all it took to cover every part of the hi-fi market and there was a strictly enforced price limit of £250 per product. We gave gongs for all the usual things – turntables, cassette decks, amplifiers, speakers – and a number of oddities, which we’re sure made sense at the time.
Looks and promise
We had an Award for cosmetic design that was won by Meridian’s modular Component amplifier and a Judge’s award for the most promising product of 1984. The nominees of this particular category were made up of recently introduced products that had not necessarily been tested. Quite. Acoustic Research’s Legend turntable won. It turned out to be a fine product, but the category itself didn’t last long.
Looking through the list of winners throws up plenty of names that will be familiar to anyone who reads What Hi-Fi? now. The likes of Sony and Rotel are there, alongside more specialist manufacturers such as Naim. Just as interesting are the manufacturers that didn’t make it. Long-term readers will remember the likes of Nakamichi, Aiwa, Akai and Heybrook – all good brands that now have faded from view. We had a bit of a chuckle when we read the turntable section though. The winner was an early version of the Rega Planar 3. Its direct descendant wins the category this year. Back then we noted that the original deck had been around for years and still represented the best option for mid-priced record players. We think the same sentiments apply to the current Planar 3 too. The world may have changed beyond recognition in many ways since 1983 but it seems What Hi-Fi? hasn’t.
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email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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. Subscriptions & Back issue requests: Haymarket Counsumer, 3 Queensbridge, Northampton, NN4 7BF Email: email@example.com Tel: 0344 848 8813/+44 (0)1604 251462.
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Close To You
“Clearway helps the system better stitch the instruments together; it’s more rhythmic, more dynamic, more musical.” Chord Company Clearway, What Hi-Fi?, October 2015
Designed in England by music lovers. Enjoyed by music lovers all over the world.
“This is Chord displaying once again an understanding of what The Chord makes hi-fiCompany great, Ltd, withMillsway an entry-level interconnect that never Centre, Amesbury SP4 7RX, UK the musicality of your system.” loses sight of what matters; To get more information and find your Chord Company C-line, What Hi-Fi?, October 2015 nearest retailer, please call us on: sit:
Connect with us Designed in England by music lovers. Enjoyed by music lovers all over the world. The Chord Company Ltd, Millsway Centre, Amesbury SP4 7RX, UK To get more information and find your nearest retailer, please call us on: +44 (0)1980 625700 or visit: