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APPLE AIRPODS SOUND BETTER THAN THEY LOOK

WIRELESS

REVOLUTION

FIRST TEST OPPO 4K BLU-RAY PLAYER

Seven brilliant Bluetooth speakers, one £100 winner

March 2017 £4.99 www.whathifi.com

one Bose JBL Librat ge id r b m a C o y k n O

USB TURNTABLES

Digitise your vinyl from £120

HI-FI FOR YOUR HEAD £600 headphones? These three pairs are worth every penny

BUYER’S GUIDE THE 300 BEST PRODUCTS YOU CAN BUY


BIGGER. BETTER. MORE DYNAMIC. INTRODUCING

7000i 5.1 Plus

With the 7000i 5.1 Plus Home Cinema Speaker Package we have surpassed the original 7000i award winner with a stunning subwoofer upgrade. Its precision soundstage, powerful dynamics and rich deep bass make it the natural choice for both home cinema enthusiasts and discerning music lovers.

Subwoofer Key Features: - Twin 170mm high power drivers resulting in lower mass, but 45% more ‘cone area’. - Delivers a bigger, more dynamic, more detailed sound. - It’s physical profile eases room positioning, allowing it to be easily concealed.

Find out more

qacoustics.co.uk


W E LC O M E

What you want, how you want, when you want – that’s a good idea Simon Lucas, editor

Imagine, for a moment, you’ve had a really good idea. An idea that’s not only good, in fact, but an idea that’s marketable. Feeling pretty pleased with yourself, right? I know I would be. The trouble with an idea that’s good and marketable, of course, is that other people will recognise it as such – and immediately they’ve done so, they’ll try to horn in on your action. Luckily for us, as consumers rather than inventors of home entertainment equipment, the slew of variations on that initial good idea can mean only one thing: greater choice and improved performance. That’s two things, actually, but you take my point. And it’s a point made absolutely crystal clear by this issue’s test of seven wireless Bluetooth speakers from just £100 (p32) – when you have the likes of Bose, Cambridge, JBL and Libratone scrapping for your money, it’s better to ignore the question of who’s imitating whom and just revel in the sort of quality such a modest outlay buys these days. And to try really hard to have a good idea.

My product of the month Cambridge Yoyo (S) (p35) It may not be quite the pinnacle of performance-per-pound in p32’s group test, but it’s close enough – and besides, the combination of über-techie gesture control and Yorkshire worsted wool is, to me at least, irresistable.

Experience. Heritage.

We’ve been helping the world discover the best in hi-fi and home entertainment for more than 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 TV tech Do you know your OLED from your QLED? Got the first clue about Hybrid Log Gamma? Let us enlighten you Headphones In-ear? On-ear? Over-ear? It all depends on your budget (and your ears, of course) Turntables Got £200 or so to spend? Suddenly you’re spoiled for choice April 2017 issue ON SALE 8th March

Find us on...

facebook.com/whathifi.com

youtube.com/WhathifiTV

@whathifi

whf.cm/playlist2017

whathifi.com

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CONTENTS

CONTENTS

“It’s never been easier to bag yourself an affordable way of enjoying music away from home” Page 32

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


CONTENTS

THE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS MONTH WE’VE THE DEFINITIVE WORD ON THESE FINE PRODUCTS BLU-RAY PLAYERS Oppo UDP-203

06

DACS Sony TA-ZH1ES

12

HEADPHONES Apple AirPods Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z

06 FIRST TESTS

The best 4K Blu-ray player money can buy

12 FIRST TESTS

A desktop DAC full of clever technology

11 56

Beyerdyamic Amiron

57

Fostex TH610

59

HI-FI SPEAKERS Dali Zensor 5 AX

21

Roth VA4

18

Sonus Faber Venere S

66

MUSIC STREAMERS Denon DRA-100

22

PROJECTORS Sony VPL-VW550ES

26

RADIOS View Quest Retro Mk II

10

STEREO AMPLIFIERS Leema Tucana II Anniversary Edition

62

TELEVISIONS

26 FIRST TESTS

44 TURNTABLES

Breathes new life into the Start your vinyl odyssey big picture experience with one of these decks

Finlux 40FMD294B-P

25

Philips 24PFS5231

16

TURNTABLES Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB

46

Crosley Keepsake

48

Lenco L-85

50

VIDEO STREAMERS Google Chromecast Ultra

17

WIRELESS SPEAKERS

54 HEADPHONES

They look great, but do they sound great too?

BUYER’S GUIDE

Bose SoundLink Colour

34

Cambridge Yoyo (S)

35

JAM Heavy Metal HX-P920

20

JBL Charge 2+

36

KitSound Hive Evolution

37

Libratone One Style

39

Onkyo X3

40

Philips BM6B

41

Vifa Helsinki (below)

24

66 TEMPTATIONS

The type of speaker that deserves an encore

FINDTHE BEST KIT AROUND,FAST! Our verdict on every product worth owning, p71

OPPO UDP-203 “This fantastic Blu-ray player raises the bar and makes us fall in love with 4K all over again” Kashfia Kabir, First tests editor

www.whathifi.com 5


FIRST TESTS

FIRST TESTS

RD EXCLUSIVE, IN-DEPTH VE

The stunning picture quality of Oppo’s first 4K Blu-ray player, the UDP-203, will sweep you off your feet

ICTS ON THE LATEST KIT

click here to view offer

Oppo UDP-203 | 4K Blu-ray player | £650

“This Oppo just gives us more…” FOR Stunning 4K picture; big sound; fast and easy to operate

AGAINST No streaming apps included

★★★★★

As we test so many products during the course of our working week, we sometimes wonder if it's possible to become a bit blasé about new technology. Take Ultra HD 4K TVs for example: they have been around for a few years now and, while 4K Blu-ray discs and players are still relatively new, we’ve seen more than enough to become accustomed to the impressive resolution. But then a product such as the Oppo UDP-203 comes along and sweeps us off our feet. Oppo’s first 4K Blu-ray player reminds us just how stunning a 4K picture still is, and takes us back to the early days, when 4K videos would make our jaws drop. A 4K Blu-ray disc player with HDR, Dolby Atmos and stacks of hi-res music compatibility, the Oppo UDP-203 is, in most respects, a well-specified unit. At £650, it’s pricier than our current favourite 4K player – the £600 Panasonic DMP-UB900, which can be found at good retailers for around £450 now. More pertinently, the Panasonic was our only five-star 4K disc-spinner – until now. The Oppo improves upon the Panasonic in most ways.

Life of Pi in 4K Blu-ray looks spectacular. The colourful scenes of Pi stranded on the vast ocean while the sun sets around him are breathtakingly crisp and vivid. The amount of detail conveyed by the Oppo UDP-203 outshines the Panasonic DMP-UB900. Every ounce of detail – from the rough texture of his sun-exposed skin to the silky-smooth clear water – is etched out with superb clarity and subtlety. Each strand of the CGI tiger’s fur looks so tactile you want to reach out and pet him. Colours are effusive, inviting you to look deeper into every inch of the screen. The Oppo goes for an appealing colour balance that’s aimed to impress – reds, blues and yellows are richly hued – but they don’t ever look unnatural.

Motion is stable too, keeping the action smooth even when faced with tricky slow-panning shots. Bright whites and dark blacks are handled expertly. The white text on computer screens in The Martian on 4K Blu-ray is stark and clean against smooth blues. Reflections shine in a way that’s appealing, while the vast Martian landscape is perfect for showing off the various red, brown, orange hues on the 4K HDR disc. There’s a certain glossiness to the Oppo’s picture that makes it alluring, but it does so without compromising its hold on reality. Characters and objects seem to pop out in a most impressive manner, too, keeping your attention hooked to the pictures. That’s down to the layer upon layer of subtlety the Oppo is capable of. It makes more of a disc (4K or Full HD) than the Panasonic UB900 does: more clarity, more detail and more gradations of shading. The player’s upscaling talents should be commended as well. Once you have adjusted to the innate fuzziness of Ocean’s Eleven on DVD, the picture still holds up in

6 www.whathifi.com

Hold on reality

The player’s talents don’t get any less exciting when watching 1080p Full HD Blu-ray. Switch to a more natural-looking palette such as The Imitation Game on Blu-ray, and the skintones are nicely textured and shaded in a realistic manner.

KEY FEATURES

HDR 4K HDR

Hi-res audio – 32-bit/384kHz

DSD


FIRST TESTS

“Oppo’s first 4K Blu-ray player reminds us just how stunning a 4K picture still is. It takes us back to the early days when 4K videos made our jaws drop”

IN DETAIL...

With its sturdy metal chassis, brushed aluminium front panel and neat display, the UDP-203 is surprisingly sleek for Oppo terms of punch and colour dynamism. It’s more detailed and less patchy than the Panasonic’s handling of DVDs. There is scope to tweak the picture using the Oppo’s DARBEE system, but it’s not subtle enough to make any useful improvements. We’d stick to fine-tuning your TV or projector’s picture when needed.

Solid smacks

The Oppo does the same thing with sound as it does with its picture: just gives us more. The soundtrack to Star Trek Beyond is a grander, more dynamic affair through the Oppo 203 than the Panasonic UB900. There’s a rousing sense of build up as Michael Giacchino’s score blares through our reference PMC speakers, with the Oppo handling the orchestral dips and soars with plenty of grip and precision. Detail is crisp and punchy, too. There’s a really solid smack when aliens thud against glass windows, for instance, while voices are rendered with more body, sounding more natural and expressive in the process.

That richness, combined with a snappy sense of rhythm, comes through with two-channel music as well. Play Okkervil River’s Lost Coastlines on CD, and the jangly guitars are packed with texture and bite, the vocals shine through, and the melody is lively and full of engaging detail. The Oppo UDP-203 isn’t just a 4K Blu-ray player – it’s a universal player in every sense. It will play both 4K and Full HD Blu-rays (2D and 3D), DVDs and CDs. It will even play DVD-Audio and SACDs – which the Panasonic UB900 doesn’t. There are two HDMI outputs on the Oppo: an HDMI 2.0 for video and audio, and an HDMI 1.4 for sending audio signals only to older receivers. The UDP-203 comes equipped with the latest HDCP2.2 specification, and adheres to the BT.2020 colour gamut standard set by the UHD Alliance. While the player currently supports the standard HDR format, HDR10 (present in all current 4K Blu-ray discs), it will be adding Dolby Vision HDR via a firmware update later in the year.

The Oppo is a true universal player, playing anything from 4K Blu-rays to CDs

The Oppo's remote control is big and chunky, but it’s also intuitive to use

www.whathifi.com 7


FIRST TESTS

IN DETAIL... 1

2

HDMI outputs There are two, one HDMI 2.0 spec, which sends out both video and audio. The other is 1.4 spec and can send audio to older kit

3

HDMI input It's unusual to see this on a Blu-ray player, but it could be used to add Chromecast to compensate for the Oppo's lack of smarts

7.1 channel out For those that are still using AV amps without HDMI inputs, we think that now would be a good time to upgrade

3 1

2

Unlike rival players, the UDP-203 doesn’t come with any video streaming apps, such as Netflix or YouTube, on board. Oppo says this is to ensure the player is fast to boot up (which it is). Since any 4K TV worth its salt is already going to have the relevant apps – including Netflix, Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer and more – you are unlikely to miss the lack of smart apps in the Oppo. There’s also the fairly affordable option of plugging in streaming devices such as the Google Chromecast Ultra or the Amazon Fire 4K TV box into the Oppo’s sole HDMI input to give it smart functionality.

Brush strokes

Inside the Oppo lies a 32-bit/384kHz DAC capable of playing lossless hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz and multiple DSD formats. All popular music files are supported, too. Connect the player to your home network – wi-fi and wired are both swift, but we’d pick the wired route for extra stability – and you’ll be able to stream your entire music library from your NAS box and other connected devices. Add in 7.1-channel analogue outputs for older, non-HDMI receivers, three USB ports for playing media files (they’ll charge your smartphone, too) and two digital inputs (coaxial and optical), and you have an impressive list of connections. The last Oppo disc player we tested, the superb BDP-105D (£1100), was a rather old-fashioned looking hunk of metal. The UDP-203, in contrast, has been housed in a sturdy metal chassis that’s surprisingly sleek by Oppo standards. With its clean lines, brushed aluminium front panel,

minimal buttons and neat display, this unit is more reminiscent of the Cambridge CXU universal player – and that’s no bad thing. The sleek exterior looks smart, and will easily fit into your home cinema room. The display is clear and informative, and also dimmable. The buttons are responsive, and the 4K disc loader itself is fast and fairly quiet in operation. The remote is big and chunky, but it’s intuitive to use. Not only do the big buttons work responsively with the player and its simple interface, the remote’s backlight is also motion-triggered – a genuinely useful feature that we wish more manufacturers would implement.

Three pieces of kit that go with the Oppo

TELEVISION LG OLED65E6V ★★ ★ ★ ★ £3700 From sound quality to picture performance, this 4K OLED is a TV fit for kings

4K connoisseur

Is the Oppo UDP-203 the new 4K Blu-ray player of choice? Certainly. While the Panasonic DMP-UB900 remains a five-star performer, the Oppo is the more impressive of the two when it comes to enjoying films. The Oppo simply reveals more layers of subtlety than the Panasonic, giving you more impetus to be drawn into what you’re watching. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of 4K discs to enjoy the Oppo, either. It’s just as enjoyable and discerning when playing normal Blu-rays and DVDs, and its music credentials are worth making a song and dance about, too. And we’re more than happy to sing the Oppo 203’s praises. It may be a touch pricey, but that sense of awe you get when watching 4K films is worth every penny. We’d start adding it to your home cinema wish list right now.

“The Oppo simply reveals more layers of subtlety than the Panasonic, giving you more impetus to be drawn into the film that you’re watching” 8 www.whathifi.com

SYSTEM BUILDER

AMPLIFIER Yamaha RX-A1060 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £1100 A return to form with this powerful expressive amp which is well worth a listen

The backlight on the remote control is motion-triggered – a feature we wish more would adopt

SPEAKERS Monitor Audio Bronze B5 AV ★★ ★ ★ ★ £1500 A brilliant surround sound speaker package

Total build £6950 says

Rating ★★★ ★★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT An impressive 4K Blu-ray player in every way. With the UDP-203, Oppo has set a new standard in home cinema


ACTIVE SOUNDBAR FOR SLIM TVS &YQFSUMZFOHJOFFSFEUPQSPWJEFUIFEFUBJMFE JNNFSTJWFTPVOEUIBUZPVnWFCFFONJTTJOH :PVSFYQFSJFODFPG57JTBCPVUUPCFUSBOTGPSNFE

EVEN BIGGER BASS IF YOU NEED IT…

Monitor Audio has also developed the optional WS-10 active subwoofer, purpose-built to add big bass dynamics to the "4#TZTUFNBOEBMMTQBDFFËŽDJFOUTFUVQT


FIRST TESTS

Despite the old-fashioned design, the Retro Mk II has a full range of up-to-date connections round the back

click here to view offer

View Quest Retro Mk II | Digital radio | £100

Modernity, vintage style FOR Stylish design; lots of features; decent dynamics

Technophiles may find common ground in their shared love of technology, but that tech comes in all shapes and forms. Some may like the sleek and shine of the latest smartphone, while others prefer having a rotary phone hanging on the wall. For those seeking the middle ground – modern functionality with a retro aesthetic – the View Quest Retro Mk II radio will scratch that itch, and at an affordable price. The VQ comes in a choice of 11 different bold colours or, for an extra £30, a range of finishes including polka dot and lemon print. Another £30 will also buy you a spare battery, so you can keep the radio playing away from the confines of a power socket. The face of the Retro Mk II features a clear, wide display that shows information such as the radio station and song you’re listening to, and also the time and volume level. In the middle is a small drawer that conceals a lightning port for charging (when the VQ is plugged in to power) or playing from Apple devices. It pops out with a push so you can hide it away when you’re not using it. It’s a nice extra level of functionality, but you’re going to need to take off any bulky iPhone cases (and its ridge does get in the way of the home button somewhat). The buttons used to control playback or change sources aren’t as easy to use as a conventional rotary knob. The absence of a mute button is also noticeable, especially when you have to hold down the volume key to turn the radio down quickly. Pressing the VQ button puts the unit in standby for a sudden silence, but it’s not the same.

Retro connections

Despite its retro design, this radio has a good range of up-to-date connections. You can use an iPod or iPhone, an auxiliary input using the 3.5mm port on the back, or its Bluetooth v2.1 connectivity. (We find Bluetooth to be stable, with no dropouts, although the VQ doesn’t connect as quickly as some other radios). There’s also a USB port for charging, which is a nice addition. And this is a pretty sophisticated radio. Its DAB mode features settings for Dynamic Range Compression, which reduces the difference between loud and quiet sounds, and has a ‘Prune’ function to delete stations that are either no longer transmitting or have changed frequency. The FM radio can also be played in ‘Forced Mono’, which makes weaker

10 www.whathifi.com

AGAINST Buttons could feel nicer; sound needs more detail

★★★★ ★

The facade of the Retro Mk II has a display screen and a pop-out tray for playing Apple devices

stations sound clearer at the expense of stereo sound. And it has six equaliser settings affecting the levels of bass and treble, as well as the option to set up your own custom EQ. You can set up to 30 of your favourite stations (on both DAB and FM) for quick access by holding down the star button, which is a helpful touch. There’s also a smattering of clock options, such as setting a sleep timer or an alarm.

Satisfying bass

Though the Retro Mk II radio has a pretty good sound quality, it’s not going to knock our Award winner, the Pure Evoke D2, off its top spot. Blast a bit of Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and you can hear a good amount of space between Freddie’s vocals and the hefty backing bass. For a hi-fi product with such a relatively small price tag, this unit is surprisingly adept at keeping its sound organised. And it’s loud too – for a small radio you certainly won’t have an issue with it filling a bedroom, and it will even deliver a pretty powerful sound when played outdoors. Playing The Edge Of The Wild from The Hobbit soundtrack, the horns and strings rise and fall smoothly, with a pretty good sense of dynamism. The VQ’s bass is big enough to be satisfying, though. Kanye West’s Love Lockdown has some weight behind its chunky low-frequency beats that will keep the casual listener happy. It’s not quite as tight as we would like – the Retro Mk II

KEY FEATURES could do with a bit more punch to truly enforce deep bass tracks – but there’s enough quantity there to make up for the slight dip in quality. Weight: 1.66kg

10W per channel

Battery life: 36hrs

Deal or no deal?

There is also a drop in transparency and insight when compared with the Pure Evoke D2. The vocals in Vampire Weekend’s Unbelievers sound a little foggy, and you’ll miss out on subtle details such as how singer Ezra Koenig occasionally drops the end of his words. On the whole, this is far from a dealbreaker for a relatively low-cost radio with oodles of functionality and a pretty solid sound overall. The Retro Mk II is a versatile product, able to act as a decent Bluetooth speaker or digital radio. And for all its modern features, there’s also a nice smattering of vintage style to go with it.

says

Rating ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Vintage style and all the latest functions, the View Quest is an almostsuperb ‘best of both worlds’ product


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Apple AirPods | Wireless headphones | £160

A chip off the old block FOR Tiny and light; weighty sound; pure wirelessness

First of all, let’s get this off our chest: the new Apple AirPods look a bit daft. For one, they look like a pair of the wired EarPods with the cable snipped off, and they draw the eye like a pair of gaudy earrings. The AirPods' distinctive design has drawn a lot of attention, and it’s rarely been positive. However, if you’re prepared to put up with the odd stare, the AirPods are a marvel, tech-wise. Even in this age of miniaturisation they’re absolutely tiny, weighing just 4g per earphone, and they aren’t connected to one another via cable. This is 'pure wireless', with no wires at all.

Perfect pairing

Almost as impressive is the pairing process. With the AirPods you simply open the carrycase lid in the vicinity of your iOS device and a window pops up asking if you want to connect. Your AirPods are now paired with that device and also with every other Apple device you’re signed into via iCloud. It’s all thanks to Apple’s W1 chip, which is (so far) built into only the AirPods and Beats’ PowerBeats3 and Solo3 headphones. It’s so quick and simple it makes the conventional Bluetooth pairing method seem archaic. You can still use that to connect the AirPods to a non-Apple device, though, thanks to a pairing button on the back of the carry case. The case isn’t just a neat place to keep your AirPods, it also keeps them juiced. They can handle about five hours of music, but the case holds another 19 hours of charge. Pop your AirPods in there and within 15 minutes they’re ready to rock for three hours. This incredibly neat set-up means you should never pop the earphones in only to have them die on you. If you have standard shaped ears, the AirPods will be not only comfortable but also surprisingly secure. We are able to run and cycle without them falling out, though some members of our test team find them uncomfortable. So will the AirPods work for you? Your best bet is to find an Apple Store and try them out, but if the similar wired Apple EarPods ft you should be okay. The minimalist design and genuine wirelessness also introduce a conundrum – how do you control the AirPods? The answer, perhaps predictably, is via Siri – but it’s far from perfect. Let’s say you want to increase the volume or skip a track. With a regular three-button remote you’ve got dedicated volume controls and a play/pause

AGAINST Lack detail; design is striking but not in a good way

The appearance of the Airpods draws the eye, but they are marvels of headphone tech

★★★ ★ ★

The neat case is also a charger, holding another 19 hours of juice

KEY FEATURES button. With the AirPods you tap the shell, wait for Siri to activate, say either “increase volume” or “skip track” and then wait while Siri carries out your instruction. Even assuming you don’t mind looking like you’re talking to yourself, the whole experience is sluggish. You can, of course, just remove your phone from your pocket, but that feels like a backwards step for such a fantastically futuristic pair of headphones.

Taking a backseat

Apple has always been a tech, rather than a hi-fi, company so it’s no surprise audio quality takes a backseat compared to design and features. There’s nothing too bad about the performance, but you can find better sound for the same money elsewhere. The first thing to bear in mind is that this is not an isolating design, which means the AirPods don’t block outside noise. There’s something to be said for being able to listen to podcasts and music while maintaining some degree of awareness of what’s going on around you, particularly if you plan to use them during a commute or jog. The AirPods’ delivery is satisfyingly weighty, with a solid bottom end that doesn’t overplay its hand. Vocals are clear and the treble is rounded off just a little at the top to avoid harshness. The bigger dynamic shifts are handled deftly, so there’s no chance you won't be swept away by your favourite soundtrack.

Bluetooth

But it’s in the fine details and subtleties that the AirPods are found wanting. Play Radiohead’s Burn The Witch and those low-level dynamic variations are missing, as is the full texture of the strings. As more and more instruments are added to the ensemble, the AirPods struggle to maintain control, allowing strands to merge into one another and confusing the presentation.

Licence to thrill

Weight 8g (pair)

In-ear

Ultimately, it's the sort of sound you’d expect from an average pair of affordable wired earphones, but contained within a pretty incredible feat of engineering. In the end, it probably comes down to whether you’re prepared to put up with passable sound in order to get on-board with the next generation of wireless tech. Of course, at What Hi-Fi? we care about sound a great deal, and we'd recommend that you pass on the AirPods. However, we can’t help but get excited about what might happen when Apple licenses its W1 chip to other manufacturers.

says

Rating ★★★ ★

SOUND BUILD COMFORT

VERDICT The Apple AirPods are true next-generation wireless headphones, but sadly of only average sound quality

www.whathifi.com 11


FIRST TESTS

“To mark its 70th anniversary, Sony has released a range of products. Think of them as a showcase for everything it has learned over seven decades”

click here to view offer

Sony TA-ZH1ES | DAC | £1640

“Immensely capable unit” FOR Crisp presentation; fine build and finish; refined sound

AGAINST Lacks excitement; analogue input could be better

★★ ★ ★ ★

From the development of CD and the Walkman to the various PlayStation incarnations, Sony has had a dramatic effect on the world of home electronics. And let’s not forget the major role the brand played in establishing DVD and Blu-ray, let alone its impact as a film studio. To mark its 70th anniversary this year, the electronics powerhouse has released a range of Signature products. These are distinctly premium items: two portable music players (£1025 and £2560), a pair of closed-back headphones (£1700), and the TA-ZH1ES DAC we have on test here. Think of them as a showcase for everything the company has learned over the past seven decades.

But there’s a twist here. The engineers have added an analogue amplifier into the mix to correct any distortion caused by the digital section. Digital amplification can be sensitive to the electrical load it’s connected to, so in this case the analogue section compensates for any distortion caused by the type of headphones used. This hybrid approach is both unusual, and mighty clever. Take a look inside, and apart from a neat circuit layout you’ll also find a highcapacity FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chip. This is loaded with Sony’s proprietary software designed for a whole range of processing functions. The highlights can be broken down into three main blocks – DSEE HX, DSD Remastering and DC Phase Linearizer. The company has promoted its DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) software for a number of years. Originally designed to improve the sound of lower bitrate PCM files, it now works on hi-res files, filling in any sonic information lost in the digital process. It’s a clever piece of software that’s much more than just upscaling.

In the latest HX form, it is offered with five options designed to prioritise things such as male or female voices, percussion, even strings. We listen to the choices (with a range of recordings) and like the default ‘Standard’ setting the best. Even so, turning the function off altogether results in the most transparent sound in our set-up. DSEE HX adds a sense of space and a little more flow, but loses too much in the way of timing and dynamic punch for our tastes.

Hybrid approach

Given Sony’s background, it comes as no surprise to find the TA-ZH1ES crammed with interesting technology. At its heart is the latest version of the company’s S-Master digital amplification circuit. This can process the incoming digital signal directly, so simplifying the signal path compared to conventional alternatives.

12 www.whathifi.com

Full-bodied flavour

You also have a choice as to how the TA-ZH1ES processes the digital music stream. A typical PCM music stream can be converted to DSD in the initial part of processing or left alone. Here, perhaps surprisingly, we prefer the DSD option, which has a more fluid sound. The grandly named DC Phase Linearizer is designed to give this Sony’s sound the phase characteristics of a typical analogue amplifier. It’s meant to give a slightly richer, full-bodied flavour, but we find it thickens the lower frequencies without offering anything positive, and so leave it off.

The stick remote control means the TA-ZH1ES can be used as a full-function preamplifier


FIRST TESTS

IN DETAIL...

The small display on the top of the TA-ZH1ES shows which source is currently playing, plus input and signal data

Sony has made a decent desktop DAC with clever technology and features that are second to none

The micro USB input on the side of the Sony TA-ZH1ES is marked 'Walkman', but will accept other portable devices

File compatibility is excellent. The TA-ZH1ES can handle PCM files to 32-bit/768kHz and up to DSD 22.4MHz. This makes it about as future proof as any current product can be, and though some may point to the lack of support for MQA as a negative, the format has yet to make a discernable impact. We’re impressed by the connectivity too. There’s the normal trio of digital inputs – USB Type B, optical and coaxial – as well as a micro USB on the side (marked Walkman) and a single-ended analogue option.

Attack and finesse

This is a digital amp, so the analogue signal is converted to digital before any other processing takes place. It’s no surprise to find there are various grades of PCM and DSD it can be converted to. To our ears, PCM 192kHz gives the best overall balance between attack and finesse. One look at the front panel is enough to tell you that there’s no shortage of headphone outputs. You have single-ended in 3.5mm and 6.3mm forms, balanced in a single 4.4mm option or dual 3.5mm and a

“Build quality is as slick as we’d expect from one of Sony’s premium products. The idea is to give the electronics a solid, well-damped foundation” XLR4. However, only one of these can be used at any one time. Around the back you’ll find a pair of stereo RCAs (with a setting to toggle between fixed and variable output). These, along with a stick of a remote handset, mean the TA-ZH1ES can be used as a full-function preamp as well as a conventional line-level DAC. This makes it more versatile than the usual all-digital DACs we normally see. Build quality is as slick as we’d expect from one of Sony’s premium products. The casework mixes aluminium with steel sections, and is rigidly braced and structurally tuned to minimise resonances. The idea is to give the electronics a solid, well-damped foundation to work from. The unit’s controls are simple, though the menu’s operational logic means that the myriad processing options are

cumbersome to work through. The display is small but clear, though.

Impressively clean

We try a range of headphones, from our reference BeyerDynamic T1 Gen.2s and Grado PS500s through to Sony’s own partnering £1700 Signature MDR-Z1Rs. The Sony headphones allow us to use the TA-ZH1ES with its balanced output. Our sources range from the Macbook Air (loaded with Pure Music software) to our Naim NDS/555PS streamer with a Cyrus CDi CD player providing an alternative digital source. When using the Sony as a DAC, our usual Gamut D3i/D200i pre/power and ATC SCM50 speakers join in. Once up and running, the TA-ZH1ES is an immensely capable unit. There’s much to admire in this Sony’s sound. It has an impressively crisp and clean presentation,

www.whathifi.com 13


FIRST TESTS

The pair of stereo RCAs at the back can be toggled between fixed and variable output

but avoids sounding thin or sterile. There’s a pleasant sweetness to the sound and plenty of refinement, which makes it easy to listen to over long sessions. We start with Explosions In The Sky’s The Wilderness and like the confident way this DAC renders the dense production. There’s a lot going on in this album, but the Sony always sounds controlled and organic. It may be an odd thing to say about electronic music, but the recording has a lovely rounded quality coupled with a degree of warmth that the TA-ZH1ES captures well.

More bite

It stays insightful even as the title track builds to a powerful crescendo. There’s plenty of power in the sound and a wealth of low-end weight and texture. We’re impressed. Playing the more intimate Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave shows off the Sony’s ability to dig up low-level details. It captures Cave’s heartfelt vocals on Rings Of Saturn well, delivering the dynamic nuances with finesse. This isn’t the cleanest of recordings and the DAC makes that clear, but it still offers a precise and organised view of the song. Rhythmically, it’s not quite as adept at conveying the steady momentum of the piece as the cheaper Chord Hugo is. However, the Chord is a particularly expressive listen, especially when it comes to dynamic punch. It manages to uncover even more of the song’s emotional impact than the Sony. We work through a range of highresolution recordings from The Dark Knight Rises OST (24-bit/192kHz) to Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece Innervisions (DSD) and the Sony performs equally well with both formats. We like its clarity, convincing tonal balance and ability to uncover fine detail without sounding overly analytical. But we also notice the shortfalls in timing and attack when compared with rivals such as the Chord Hugo and, at a higher price point, Copland’s DAC215.

Inside the Sony is a neat circuit with a high-capacity FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chip The analogue input turns out to be something of a disappointment. It sounds compressed and soft compared with the digital side. The PCM conversion adds more bite than DSD, but neither option sounds specially insightful or exciting. Our findings so far take in the Sony used as a DAC in our reference system and how it sounds with headphones. We also try the TA-ZH1ES as a preamplifier feeding our Gamut D200i as well as a more price compatible alternative in the form of Leema’s Elements power amp.

Try these with your Sony DAC

LAPTOP Apple MacBook Pro £1250 Boost the sound of the best laptop around

KEY FEATURES

SMARTPHONE Sony Xperia Z5 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £450 Solid flagship smartphone from Sony

Mixed feelings

Ultimately, we’re left with mixed feelings. The sound remains neat and detailed, but lacks some of the sparkle and openness we hear through headphones and when feeding our reference preamp. This Sony is a product we admire rather than love. It’s nicely made and there’s some really clever technology incorporated. When it comes to features it’s second to none. While some aspects of performance could be better, there remains much to like. If you’re looking for a quality desktop DAC, then, this one is certainly worth an audition.

“There’s much to admire in the Sony TA-ZH1ES’s sound. It has an impressively crisp and clean presentation, but avoids sounding thin or sterile” 14 www.whathifi.com

SYSTEM BUILDER

Hybrid digital/ analogue design

HEADPHONES Beyerdynamic T1 Gen.2 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £800 The Gen.2 T1s are truly convincing performers

32-bit/768kHz

Total build £4140

PCM/DSD 22.4MHz

says Preamp output

Rating ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The Sony TA-ZH1ES is a fine, capable and well-equipped DAC that is packed with clever technology


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FIRST TESTS

There’s no internet or smarts, but the Philips has an array of connections and Bluetooth capability

click here to view offer

Philips 24PFS5231 | Television | £200

The thin end of the wedge FOR Neat design; solid sound; good picture; Bluetooth

Rivalling Miss America in its pursuit for slimness, the TV industry has typically prioritised picture over sound quality, squeezing speakers into ever-thinner frames. This 24in Full HD Philips is a slender telly, but gets round the sonic repercussions by having its wedge-like, cheese grater-sized stand double up as a speaker (driven by a 16W amplifier). Despite jutting out a little in front and behind the panel, which prohibits it from being wall-mounted, the Philips’ speaker concept is not only beneficial in performance but from a features perspective too. While it omits internet (and therefore smart) capability, the 5231 has built-in Bluetooth for streaming music from a laptop, smartphone or portable device. There’s also a single USB input for photo, video and music playback, and twin HDMI and SCART and component inputs, plus an optical output if you choose to upgrade to a separate soundbar.

Shere delight

We’ve condemned many stand-alone speakers this size for sounding thin, but the Philips is surprisingly ample. As we settle down for a sing-a-long to Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book adaptation, Bill Kingsley’s narration (as Bagheera) comes through with plenty of body, and there’s solidity behind Idris Elba’s tiger roar – notably more than from the average small flatscreen TV. That’s without any midrange boost, although the ‘Personal’ sound mode (as well as ‘Clear Sound’ setting) can step in to add extra clarity and projection to voices. The speaker doesn’t just add weight to the presentation, there’s a satisfying amount of detail, dynamics and volume too. It has the insight to carry Shere Khan’s threatening tone, keep the jungle noises discernible beneath dialogue, and communicate the faint pitter-patter of rain. In the opening jungle chase, as Mowgli darts from tree to tree, the galloping momentum of the backing track is carried well enough to get your feet twitching in anticipation. We switch to Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack and the Philips handles the droning bass undercurrent competently.

16 www.whathifi.com

AGAINST No smart apps; slight motion issues

★★★★★

With a wedge-shaped speaker underneath the 24PFS5231, Philips has come up with a smart solution for the sound on slim TVs

Switching to ‘Standard’ or ‘Natural’ picture modes, which provide the best colour balance, and turning down contrast a tad are good starts. There’s no motion-processing setting, which is a shame because, with The Jungle Book, camera pans and animal scraps carry a little inescapable judder.

A rare find

“The quality of the picture on this 24in screen more than meets the high standards set by the speakers” Organ chimes sound big and bold, and there’s a sense of immediacy and dynamic presence you can otherwise expect only from a standalone budget soundbar.

Explicit presentation

You don’t have to push the volume to 11 to get a room-filling soundfield either. In fact, we’d avoid its loudest quarter, where a little hardness pollutes upper mids and treble. Playing Bluetooth-streamed music doesn’t hamper our praise for the 24PFS5231 – its presentation is explicit, balanced and clear, even with a lo-res Spotify stream. It delivers an enjoyable rendition of Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In The Jar that drives the electric riffs with clarity and conveys the feeling in the vocal well. The impressive sound makes you hanker for a larger screen, but thankfully the quality of these 24 inches more than meets the high standards set by the speakers. The TV menu may not be the most intuitive we’ve seen, but it’s where you’ll find the usual contrast, brightness, sharpness and colour settings, all of which we tweak with a THX Optimizer disc.

KEY FEATURES

Bluetooth

16W amplifier

That's this set’s soft spot, but the rest of the Philips' picture talents more than make up for it. With both Blu-ray and Full HD TV broadcasts, it’s crisp and clean. From green leaves to Mowgli’s red pants and Shere Khan’s orange coat, colours strike a natural balance that’s easy on the eye. The downgrade to DVD is kind, which is partly due to the Philips’ diminutive size but also its credible upscaler. Edges carry some blur, but the levels of sharpness and clarity are mostly retained. You only need the black bars and a shot of space to show that contrast is too, and hues don’t lack potency or punch. It’s also refreshing not having to caution readers about the quality of standarddefinition broadcasts, as we’ve become used to with some 4K sets. It's more than watchable, and the delivery won’t put you off watching episodes of Top Gear on Dave. Many people buying a new TV might opt for one with 4K and HDR, but it could be some time before those technologies are a requirement for a household’s second telly, and even longer before they are standard on such a modest screen size. If your current needs require an affordable small screen that serves up a solid picture and prioritises sound quality more than most, whether for films, TV shows or gaming (or all three), the Philips 24PFS5231 is a compelling, and rare, find.

2 x HDMI

says

Rating ★★★★★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT Philips has succeeded in its audiovisual voyage, with the 24PFS5231 having a great sound and picture quality


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Google Chromecast Ultra | Video streamer | £70

Too much for a good thing FOR 4K HDR support; stable streaming; plenty of content

AGAINST No Amazon Video app; price tag has doubled

When the original Google Chromecast was released, it was hailed as the best way to add smart apps to your non-smart TV – a simple and affordable way to upgrade without having to buy a brand-new set. The 2015 update streamlined the design, added more apps and gave us faster speeds, making it great value at £30. However, we’re struggling to see the point of the Google Chromecast Ultra. It’s everything the Chromecast (2015) is, with added support for 4K Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range (HDR). But its limited 4K app selection doesn’t justify the £70 price tag.

4K HDR credentials are the logical next step for the Ultra – but, when it comes to apps that deliver 4K content, it offers only Netflix and YouTube. There’s no Amazon Video, which makes the Ultra rather limiting, especially when most big-brand 4K TVs today carry Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Video as part of their standard smart TV selection. If you’re not fussed about 4K HDR, there are plenty of apps through which you can watch Full HD content. From the full selection of the UK’s catch up TV services to subscription services such as Now TV, wuaki.tv and BT Sport, there’s plenty here. You can stream music using Spotify, BBC Radio and Deezer, and there are apps that support gaming too. But you get pretty much all of the main apps on the standard Chromecast, at less than half the cost.

Minimal dangling

The Chromecast Ultra supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR, but doesn’t justify its £70 price tag

What Chromecast does best remains its killer feature: casting content seamlessly from your smartphone to TV. Simply look out for the Cast icon in an app, tap it, press play, and you’ll be streaming to your TV in seconds. There’s no extra log-in needed either, as you’ll be streaming from existing apps on your smartphone – which also means no need for a remote. Launch and response times are speedy, with just a few seconds before a 4K stream gets under way. It’s worth downloading the Google Home app, as it's a base for Chromecast features (including help with set-up, collating GoogleCast-compatible apps in one place and recommending other apps that support casting, too.) There’s no home page when you plug in the Chromecast, which simplifies the experience. Apple owners are restricted to streaming from apps that support GoogleCast, but Android users can mirror nearly anything on their phones – a web browser, a game of Angry Birds, or your holiday snaps – to enjoy them on a bigger TV screen. Google has stuck with the puck-shaped design for the Chromecast Ultra, with a short length of HDMI cable sticking out. The end of the HDMI and the back of the disc are magnetic, so they can be neatly attached together with minimal dangling.

★★★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

4K Ultra HD

HDR HDR

Ethernet + wi-fi

The HDMI and the disc use magnets so they can be neatly attached Unlike the standard Chromecast that runs on USB power, the Ultra needs to be connected to the mains. When it comes to performance, we have few complaints with the Ultra, though you’ll need a robust network with bandwidth that can handle the data-heavy 4K streams. The Ultra has dual band 2.4GHz/5GHz wi-fi built-in, but we'd recommend using the ethernet port, which gives you rock-solid stability. Whether you’re watching a 1080p or 4K stream, the Ultra will automatically upscale everything to 4K. Old episodes of Firefly pop from the screen, with rich colours, clean outlines and a bit more depth than you get with standard definition. It doesn’t reach the same heights as a physical 4K disc, but the picture quality is of a similar level of performance as we’d expect when streaming straight from a TV’s app.

Double trouble

The Google Chromecast Ultra is a puzzling product. At £70, it’s double the price of the standard Chromecast, but its 4K features don’t quite add up to twice the experience. Given its lack of Amazon Video, it’s hard to make a case for the Ultra. Its casting abilities, convenience and ease of use are still top-notch – but nothing that you can’t already get from the standard Chromecast. Those who want to stream their own 4K footage from smart devices will find a use for the Ultra. But if you’re after only the excellent GoogleCast feature, we’d stick with the basic Chromecast.

says

Rating ★★★ ★

PERFORMANCE FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Limited 4K apps and higher price makes the Chromecast Ultra a difficult product to recommend

www.whathifi.com 17


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Roth VA4 | Desktop speakers | £200

Nice ingredients – just add source FOR Nice tonal balance; smallscale dynamics; weighty bass

AGAINST Could be more bl di b i f

★★★★ ★

They might be small but there's a phono stage and amp in one of these speakers

With more people buying vinyl each year, there’s a greater number of turntables being bought (or dusted off) and plugged in. If you’re in the market for a pair of speakers to connect your record player up to, Roth Audio wants the VA4s to be your go-to. These desktop speakers have a built-in phono stage, so you won’t need an outboard phono stage or separate amplifier. Trying to make the vinyl resurgence more accessible is a noble aim, but does the performance match the concept?

Switchable input

Not only is the VA4’s moving-magnet phono stage a nice addition, it’s also easy to activate – simply flick the toggle on the back of the master speaker and the speakers will switch the RCA input from line-level audio to phono. This means you can still connect other sources via RCA. And if your record player has a ground wire, there’s a silver screw connection on the back for it. If you don’t have a turntable, though, the VA4s still have you covered with their aptX Bluetooth connectivity, 3.5mm input and optical connection. There is also an output to connect a subwoofer. If you want to charge your smartphone or tablet while using it, there’s a USB port for that too.

You’re in control

You can flick between inputs by pushing the volume control dial on the back, or by using the remote. There are also buttons to adjust bass and treble so, to some extent, you can tailor how your music sounds. However, the only indication that a button has been pressed is by the flash of a small green light on the master speaker that’s a bit difficult to see with the grille on – and there isn’t a way of immediately telling which input you’re connected to.

The master speaker houses all the connections and the phono/line switch

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The VA4s are small enough that they should fit on bookshelf – measuring 22 x 14 x 17cm (hwd). You can get them in three finishes – red, white, and black – but that only changes the colour of the speakers’ faces – the wooden housings are the same black colour on each variety. Your music comes out of the 25mm tweeter and 10cm driver on each speaker, all powered by a 2 x 40W Class D amplifier housed in the master unit – the two boxes are linked simply by speaker cable. And, on the whole, the sound quality of these speakers reflects their good design. Tonally, the VA4s are nicely balanced – when playing Confusion by ELO, the high treble synths of the Yamaha CS80 that open the song come across subtly, without any harsh or aggressive edges to them.

Right in the middle

Keep the track playing and the Roths put across midrange nicely as well – Jeff Lynne’s vocals are solid throughout and have a good level of detail. Lynne’s pop lament is a vibrant one, and the VA4s do a good job of conveying its character. Give them a chance, though, and these speakers aren’t afraid of hefting their weight about. No One Knows by Queens of the Stone Age is a song built on the foundations of low-frequency electric guitars and a bouncing bass drum. The VA4s present both in satisfyingly large quantities.

KEY FEATURES

Phono stage

Bluetooth

Remote control

Dynamically, these speakers can manage the small scale with relative ease, even if they don’t do the bigger dynamics as well. You won’t get the powerful punch on Hans Zimmer’s Mombasa that you might like, but the little, quick acoustic fingerings on Surfjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell rise and fall with commendable precision. There are a few refinements that could be made to the VA4s' sound; a little more subtlety and clarity on songs like Stevens’ Should Have Known Better would make these speakers convey the emotion behind his soulful melodies better. Tightening up the bass and the timing a tad wouldn’t go amiss either. If you’re looking for an affordable pair of speakers that can play everything from Bluetooth to vinyl, then the VA4s are right up your street. From treble to bass, you’ll get a well-balanced sound with decent insight that’s certainly worth clearing some space on your bookshelf for.

says

Rating ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Whether you're hooking up a turntable or going wireless digital, these speakers have a good take on most things


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

JAM Heavy Metal HX-P920 | Wireless speaker | £60

“Great big sound from a little box” FOR Big, space-filling sound; quality build; handsome looks

AGAINST No NFC; feature count not as extensive as rivals

★★★★★

The JAM Heavy Metal is a handsome-looking speaker with a weighty sonic character to match

“Short on ‘non-audio’ skills, the Heavy Metal concentrates exclusively on being a speaker” There are, admittedly, only so many ways to design a compact, portable Bluetooth speaker, but there’s no denying the JAM Heavy Metal HX-P920 has ‘a hint of Bose’ about it – specifically the Bose SoundLink Mini. But, hey, both are fine-looking units, so we’ll leave the ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ discussions for another day. For now, we’ll just concentrate on the terrific build quality that your £60 buys you. From the moment we unbox the JAM, we imagine its maker demanding more of our shillings. And, you know what, we are on the right track. It was previously priced at £100, and a chunky price cut has resulted in the Heavy Metal being a cracking buy. Although, before the team at JAM start high-fiving each other, can we request (significantly) more eco-friendly packaging? When it comes to plastic, less is definitely more.

Eschewing the plastic

Fortunately, when it comes to the actual contents, JAM eschews plastic-fantastic in favour of (highly recyclable) aluminium. The result is one handsome-looking portable speaker. The wrap is smooth, the metal feels cool to the touch, and the weight is just right – sufficient to feel reassuring, not enough to weigh you down on your travels. Look at the top of the chassis and you'll find the six-button control panel. This puts you in charge of a shortlist of standard requests – power up, track skip, volume up and down, that sort of fare. Up against the likes of the Lava Brightsounds 2 – aka the Swiss Army knife of sub-£100 portable Bluetooth speakers – the JAM is short on

20 www.whathifi.com

‘non-audio’ skills. Sure, it will operate as a speakerphone and it gives out voice prompts, but that’s your lot. The Heavy Metal, you see, concentrates almost exclusively on the job of ‘being a speaker’.

Modest dimensions

And what a speaker it is. Hook up your Bluetooth device, or use the 3.5mm auxiliary input, and sound delivery immediately belies the unit’s modest dimensions. This is a great big sound from a very little box. Play the title track from Leonard Cohen’s final album, You Want It Darker – a demanding tester for any self-respecting Bluetooth speaker – and the JAM does an admirable job with the Canadian’s vocals, conveying the solidity and emotion of his gravelly, gravely delivered, words. Bass impresses. Big and bold, it helps make for a room-filling sound. Being hyper-critical, we’d like a little more tautness and a dash of extra pace to some of these lower frequencies, but at this price we are happy. The ‘largeness’ of the JAM’s sound is rare at this sub-£100 level and an occasionally relaxed bass delivery is a price most won’t mind paying.

Smiles all round

Switch from Cohen to something more up-tempo (though you could say that's almost any other music) and the little metal speaker continues to make you smile. Daft Punk’s Lose Yourself To Dance gleefully bounces along; the handclaps are snappy and the rhythm guitar is undeniably groovy. Crank up the volume and you’ll

KEY FEATURES

Bluetooth

Dimensions (hwd): 60 x 201 x 63mm

3.5mm jack

eventually get a touch of hardness out of the JAM – those handclaps get a little too snappy – but the reach of the overall sound means you’re less inclined (metaphorically, at least) to twist that dial. A further plus is the Heavy Metal’s non-discriminatory approach to genres. Whether playing classical or indie or rock, performances are consistent and highly listenable. That big bass helps, and the little speaker’s weighty sonic character is a great foil for the sometimes sonically lean world of MP3 files and Bluetooth transmission.

Because it's worth it

One sign of a mediocre Bluetooth speaker is that its owners leave it unconnected when they want to just quickly play a track. You know the scene; you stumble across a song on YouTube and settle for replay from your laptop’s awful-sounding speaker system. That won’t happen with the Heavy Metal – hooking it up is always worth the effort. A slightly higher spend buys a more refined performance – for £80, the Ultimate Ears Roll 2 delivers more detail and sweeter treble – but if your budget is £60 max, the JAM Heavy Metal is a shoo-in.

says

Rating ★★★★★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The reasonably priced JAM Heavy Metal produces a full sound from a well made, good-looking slab of metal


That elegant base helps give the speakers a firm foundation

Dali Zensor 5 AX | Stereo speakers | £800

“Fast, detailed, enthusiastic” FOR Excellent sound; rhythmic and well timed; functionality

AGAINST Needs careful positioning and partnering

Sometimes in hi-fi you need perseverance to get the best results. But like most things that take a little effort, the rewards you’ll reap when you do are absolutely worth it. The Dali Zensor 5 AXs are a bit like that. A powered pair of floorstanders, it’s in their nature to be up and running with minimum fuss. In many ways they are, but take care with set-up and these speakers will shine.

splitting the amplified signal to the 13cm wood-fibre cone woofers and 25mm soft-dome tweeter in each cabinet. There isn’t the biggest choice of inputs – just 3.5mm aux, digital optical and aptX Bluetooth – but that’s probably enough. It means you can hook up portable devices or a laptop via the mini-jack or Bluetooth, and a CD player or even your TV via the optical. We set them up, connect our Cyrus CDi CD player and place them in our standard speaker position, well away from the rear wall of our testing room, toed in. They are unmistakably Dali. Fast, detailed and enthusiastic, they offer a bigger, better sound than any one-box solution at this price. But there are niggles – the bass lacks punch and definition and the treble isn’t the most refined.

Brains and power

At a glance, the speakers themselves look just like their passive siblings save for a small LED on the left (master) speaker that tells you the input selected. This master speaker holds the brains of the set-up, including the 50W-per-channel Class D amplifier, a choice of inputs and the wireless components for Bluetooth. Connect this speaker to mains power, then to its sibling, a standard Zensor 5 (cable included), and you're off. Since the crossover remains passive, this is a powered set-up rather than truly active,

The lef (powered) speaker connects to its sibling via a supplied cable

“It’s a clean, thoroughly articulate performance, with voices sounding warm, natural and filled with expression” Then we try them close to the back wall, with no toe-in. Immediately the previously soft bass sounds more solid. Low notes have more definition to their leading edges and there’s more confidence in the lower register overall. There could still be a touch more kick to the lower bass notes, but it’s an improvement over our first listen, and one that helps to deliver improved solidity and richness across the rest of the frequency range. One grumble fixed, we address the next. Though the treble is calmer with the new placement closer to the wall, we still find it a touch too lively. We switch out the included speaker cable for something of better

★★★★★ KEY FEATURES

Powered speakers

aptX Bluetooth

Optical input

quality – we’d recommend the Awardwinning Chord Clearway at £10/m – and the difference is undeniable. The White Stripes song that had previously sounded hard and unrelenting still sounds suitably manic, but is better expressed. It’s a credit to the 5 AXs just how transparent they are to every single component in your system, but that's also a consideration: you’re going to want to feed them the best source you can, and consider your cabling too. We settle back for further listening and continue to be impressed. It’s a clean, thoroughly articulate performance, with voices sounding warm, natural and filled with expression. There’s loads of detail to enjoy and, while these aren’t the biggestsounding floorstanders we’ve heard at this level, they’re very spacious and handle scale and dynamics with verve.

The fun factor

Toning down that treble hasn’t taken away any of their ability to entertain either, with a fun and lively tone and a strong sense of timing even with complex rhythms. We take a listen over Bluetooth and notice some expected compromises – it’s a smaller sound with some loss of detail – but it’s still an enjoyable listen that holds true to the 5 AXs’ cohesive and engaging musical character. The Dali Zensor 5 AXs are a strong reminder that you can’t always judge hi-fi by its first listen. Running in and systemmatching are both very important, while taking care with placement and accessories can make all the difference too. We liked the Zensor 5 AXs when we first heard them, but by the end of our time with them we loved them. They’re a real success, delivering all the convenience of a one-box solution in something altogether more hi-fi.

says

Rating ★★★★★ SOUND COMPATIBILITY BUILD

VERDICT All of the hi-fi with fewer of the boxes, the Zensor 5 AXs are a neat and convenient solution that sound superb

www.whathifi.com 21


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Denon DRA-100 | Streaming system | £700

“A box of tricks packed with streaming goodies” FOR Big, open sound; stylish design; great features

AGAINST Sound could do with greater precision; app is slow

★★★★ ★

Part of Denon's Design Series, the £700 DRA-100 is essentially a handful of hi-fi separates – amplifier, DAC, streamer and Bluetooth receiver – all built into one stylish and compact box. All you need to do is add a pair of speakers. Reminiscent of the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi (a 2014 Award-winner that is now discontinued), you can play almost any source – both streaming and wired – into the sleek DRA-100.

high-resolution DAC and streamer (capable of playing up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD files over wired ethernet and wi-fi); and it can play wirelessly in a variety of ways, from Bluetooth and AirPlay to internet radio and Spotify Connect.

Antennae are included for wi-fi but, for greater stability, we would prefer to go down the wired ethernet route. The DRA-100 connects to our network swiftly and immediately sees our two NAS libraries (you have to press the Media Server input on the remote to start playing from them). It takes a bit of time to load up all the albums, and to play songs when selected on the app (the remote is quicker), but the stream itself is stable and never drops out during our testing time.

Question time

As a compact, modern system that will fit right into your home, the Denon looks the part. The minimal, stylish exterior certainly lives up to its “Design Series” billing. The sleek black and metal casing with its curved edges looks smart, as do the large OLED display and volume dial. It’s well built too, so you’ll certainly feel you’re getting your money’s worth here. You get plenty of information on that clear OLED display, from song and artist names to sampling rate and file type – all of which is perfectly legible. The responsive volume dial turns smoothly, too. Buttons are sparse on the front panel, which instead features a handful of touch-capacitive buttons for navigating your way around the Denon’s menu. They work fine, but they’re a bit limiting in actual use and, besides, it's far more likely you’ll be controlling the Denon using the supplied remote control. The remote is easier to use (especially when you’re sitting on the sofa) and you can select inputs and songs far more quickly. If you have a vast network-stored music library, we’d recommend downloading the Denon Hi-Fi Remote app on your iOS/ Android smartphone, which simply gives you more space to scroll through songs and radio stations. It’s not quite the sleekest and fastest of apps, but it gets the job done. If we were to be asked the question “what can the Denon DRA-100 do?” the answer would have to be “pretty much everything”. It’s an amplifier (specifically, a class D amplifier pumping out 70W per channel); a

22 www.whathifi.com

Impressive arsenal

When it comes to physical connections, there are plenty of analogue and digital options for connecting CD players, turntables and more. There are two line-level RCA inputs, one coaxial and two optical inputs, a pair of analogue outputs and a subwoofer out. At the front, you’ll find a 6.3mm headphone jack, and a USB port that will charge and play songs from iPods and iPhones. Really, the only big things missing from the DRA-100’s impressive arsenal of connections are a phono stage, a CD drive and a 3.5mm auxiliary input. But as far as streaming features go, the Denon is pretty well featured for a compact one-box system at less than a grand.

Too polite for snarling

We start playing Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave album, one of our favourite test room staples, and the Denon DRA-100 proves it’s more than just a pretty face. Clean, smooth and spacious, it’s a pleasing presentation right from the moment you press ‘play’. It’s not the most analytical sound we’ve heard, but there’s an easy-going approach to all songs – from every source and every resolution – that means you can keep listening for hours.

IN DETAIL... 3

2

1 The casework is solid and nicely finished. Edges are neatly rounded, giving the unit an air of luxury

A pair of analogue inputs means plenty of options for connecting CD players, turntables and more

Antennae are included for wi-fi but, for greater stability, we'd still prefer to go down the wired ethernet route

3 1 2


FIRST TESTS

The DRA-100 is a compact system with a minimal stylish look and an easy-going sound

“What can the Denon DRA-100 do? Pretty much everything. It’s an amp, high-resolution DAC and streamer – and it can play music wirelessly in a variety of ways” KEY FEATURES

70W per channel

Bluetooth 24-bit/192kHz Hi-res audio DSD

The undulating tune in Breezeblocks comes across fluidly in a wide and open soundstage. Notes aren’t entirely crisp, but they’re not fuzzy either. Voices ring out clearly and sweetly, although we’d like more detail and solidity to the sound. The DRA-100 can’t quite convey Tom Wait’s growling, rasping vocals in a 24-bit/96kHz recording of Hell Broke Luce – it’s too polite to get across that snarling attitude.

Pleasant approach

On the plus side, there’s no hint of flabby basslines or brashness around the treble regardless of what we play through it. You can also turn up the volume pretty loud without obvious distortion creeping in. That unfussy quality works well with lower resolution streams over Bluetooth and Spotify, too. While the Denon doesn’t shy away from demonstrating how well recorded Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is, it also doesn’t snub its nose when you’re playing classic 90s alternative rock hits through internet radio.

A bit more punch and precision would liven up the Denon’s sound. Its pleasant approach is more appropriate for background listening rather than getting your teeth stuck into what you’re hearing.

Box of tricks

The DRA-100 needs a more accurate sense of timing and subtler dynamics to really get the emotional depth and weight of Ólufar Arnald’s Raein across. And songs such as Sbtrkt's Wildfire or Radiohead’s 15 Step need tauter basslines and punchier, better controlled delivery to really make their mark. We’d like more insight from a £700 system, but the Denon’s smooth and clean presentation is pleasant, and a plethora of streaming features and connectivity means you won't run out of ways of playing music. The DRA-100 is a nicely designed and well-featured compact system. If you're looking for something that's packed with streaming goodies, easy to use and sounds smooth and enjoyable, this box of tricks is worth an audition.

The app isn’t the slickest, but gives you more space

says

Rating ★★ ★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Stylish looks, excellent features and a smooth, easy-going sound make this compact Denon a worthwhile listen

www.whathifi.com 23


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Vifa Helsinki | Wireless speaker | £300

“Scandinavian je ne sais quoi” FOR High volume; nice bass weight; good amount of detail

AGAINST Needs more dynamic expression; not agile

At a glance, you might mistake the Vifa Helsinki for a small clutch bag or a woolly purse rather than a wireless speaker, something that might belong more in a fashion shoot than a hi-fi testing room. But Vifa hasn’t settled for style over substance – beneath the furry fabric is a product with some solid sound quality. The Helsinki will play your music in two ways: through its 3.5mm input jack on the back, or via aptX Bluetooth. Apart from volume controls, there is only one other button, located on the side, that toggles between the inputs. Press until it flashes blue to pair it to Bluetooth devices, or hold your NFC compatible device near the volume buttons.

The Vifa Helsinki looks like something from a fashion shoot, but this stylish wireless speaker also has great sound

★★★★ ★

Its midrange is relatively insightful too, on Swift’s processed lyrics in the middle of the song that encourage you to get down to “this sick beat”, as well as the clear vocalisations that follow. It won't beat the Dali Katch for detail any time soon, but there’s certainly enough there to make you take note. Pushing the treble with Eels’ Losing Streak, the high-pitched piano that chirps along throughout the track remains uplifting and airy without edging on bright, or infringing on Mark Oliver Everett’s vocals. The Helsinki has a nicely refined tonal balance, so you should never feel as though one element of your music is obstructing another.

Bright and breezy

Brain power

Vifa says the Helsinki’s lithium ion battery lasts for eight hours, and takes around three to four hours to reach full charge. And you can, to some extent, tell the Helsinki where it’s playing from and how you want to use it. The Vifa app, available on iOS and Android, gives you a choice of two placement settings – the unmediated ‘Allround’ mode, and a ‘Desktop’ mode that, according to Vifa, introduces a “soft dip around 300Hz” to compensate for any rise from it being on a large desk or shelf. The tuning modes let you choose between ‘Neutral’, for standard listening, and a ‘Late night’ mode which emphasises the bass and treble frequencies. You can also use the app to turn down the brightness of the light around the Helsinki’s Mode button, which is a neat feature too. The Helsinki doesn’t have a USB port – though it’s not something that’s universal on wireless speakers, it’s handy for charging and a nice addition when it’s there. Vifa takes pride in the design of the Helsinki, as it should with the number of big names behind it. The wool has been woven by Danish textile designer Kvadrat, and comes in a range of four romantically named colours: Willow Green, Misty Blue, Dusty Rose and Sandstone Grey. The Helsinki isn’t particularly heavy to carry – at 1.4kg it weighs about the same as a litre and a half of water (or, incidentally, a human brain).

24 www.whathifi.com

“Whenever a speaker invites you to take it out into the real world, it’s got to be loud, at least” The body is made of a singular, molded piece of aluminium to avoid any assembly markings or frail areas, and the leather strap aims for a mix of comfort and style. There’s no mistaking the design chops on this portable wireless speaker.

Midnight rave

But not only does the Helsinki look good, it sounds good too. Whenever a speaker invites you to take it out into the real world, it’s got to be loud, at least. The Helsinki meets that bar with gusto, managing to hit high volumes without sounding harsh. It’s also got a good amount of bass weight behind it, so if you’re looking for something to play high-energy songs at a midnight forest rave, the Helsinki is a good choice. The low frequency drums in Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off have a surprising amount of force for such a little speaker.

KEY FEATURES

aptX Bluetooth

Lithium Ion battery

But while this wireless speaker is all too ready to roar, it doesn’t quite have the level of quality in its dynamic expression that we’d like. We switch to The Pretender by Foo Fighters, and while the Helsinki can manage the more obvious changes between the soft vocals and blasts of electric guitar, there’s a level of subtlety in the performance that’s missing compared with the class leaders. Similarly, the Helsinki would also benefit from being a little more agile – the quick tempo of Losing Streak isn’t as articulate as it could be, and falls short of conveying the song's breezy momentum. Overall, this portable wireless speaker sits in the middle of that cross-section where style and sound quality intersect. It’s weighty and loud without being brash, and will comfortably handle your music. If your hi-fi needs some of that Scandinavian je ne sais quoi (or, as they say in Denmark, en vis noget) then the Vifa Helsinki will keep you content.

says Wool covering

Rating ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT This stylish wireless speaker has the sound quality to match its good looks


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Finlux 40FMD294B-P | 40in television | £250

“A few surprises along the way” FOR Sharp picture; well judged colour palette; good value

Sometimes you don’t need bells and whistles to get the job done well. This Finlux set, rather short on either of them, does just that – and all for just £250. You'll have to look past the somewhat unimpressive cover to see it though – it’s not the prettiest of sets, having a chunky black bezel to match its inelegant plastic stand. It’s light too – almost worryingly so – and its inputs are relatively limited, with only two HDMIs to choose from. Enough for more humble set-ups perhaps, but it will leave more ambitious systems wanting. Still, the beauty in this budget set is its picture performance. With enough tweaking and a healthy dose of wellmanaged expectations, you can get a pretty decent image.

AGAINST Lacks subtle detail; contrast could be better; design

★★ ★ ★ ★

Not the prettiest screen, perhaps, but it presents a pleasing picture

Unexpected extras

It has a few features you might not expect at this price too, including built-in wi-fi and Freeview Play – meaning it’s capable of a few surprises along the way. While 4K might be the resolution of choice these days, it’s Full HD that’s served up on the 40FMD294B-P – and to its credit. Compared with some of the budget 4K TVs we’ve seen, it’s a much more convincing picture across the board – you won’t get 4K compatibility of course, but smaller budgets are better spent on HD sets for best results. Setting up the TV is relatively simple – if you’re using a THX disc to adjust your picture settings though, you’ll want to briefly turn off the CEC control because, when switched on, the included remote automatically controls any connected HDMI devices. That can be handy but it also stops you getting to the picture settings menu you need. The remote isn’t the easiest to navigate either, with some icons for key features not easily recognisable. When it comes to picture settings, we prefer the ‘natural’ picture mode to our usual ‘cinema’ setting, then we tweak from there. We switch eco mode and most extra processing to off, though we do find blacks benefit from the ‘low’ option.

We first try some HD TV channels and are pleasantly surprised at the Finlux’s capabilities. It shows off a largely natural colour palette and a decently sharp, watchable image with clean outlines. Bright colours are occasionally misjudged and overdone, but for the most part it manages the balance between punch and believability with confidence, and skintones are spot on too. It could be accused of being a touch smooth and lacking in insight, but the picture remains watchable.

KEY FEATURES

Full HD

Freeview Play

Fun in the jungle

We switch up to a Blu-ray of The Jungle Book and notice similar traits. The orange of Shere Khan’s coat is pushed a little too much, and the finer detail and texture to fur, faces and landscapes is overlooked, but it’s still a sharp, vibrant and enjoyable picture with no motion issues of note, even if detail in dark scenes can be rather limited. There’s no smart TV system of note – it’s more a (relatively short) list of accessible apps built into the settings menu than anything else. Still, with shortcuts to most of them from the remote, it works just fine.

“There have been understandable compromises here, but they’ve been well handled, creating a better-considered picture than we’d anticipate“

2 x HDMIs

They include Netflix, YouTube and Freeview Play – the latter doubles as a TV guide for the 70 Freeview channels and an on-demand service for all the UK’s catch-up services – a great inclusion at this price. You will want to consider buying a soundbar if you go for this TV. Most flatscreen sets – particularly budget ones – don’t offer much in the sound department but this is definitely one of the Finlux’s weaker spots. It sounds hollow and cumbersome. There have been some understandable compromises here, but they’ve been well handled so are far from glaring, ultimately creating a better-considered picture than we’d anticipate. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but watch this TV with the open mind its price tag demands and we suspect you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as we are.

says

Rating ★★ ★★ ★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT It’s not without its compromises, but this budget set offers a good performance for the money

www.whathifi.com 25


FIRST TESTS click here to view offer

Sony VPL-VW550ES | 4K projector | £6000

KEY FEATURES

“Like a blast of hairspray” FOR 4K and HDR support; fine SD and HD upscaling; set up

AGAINST Nothing noteworthy, even at this price

4K

HDR HDR

★★ ★ ★ ★

It's a hefy unit, but once set up and out of the way you can forget about it for 6000 hours of viewing

Spend six grand on a projector and you want to be able to play all your sources on it – so there are plenty of inputs

26 www.whathifi.com

300in maximum image size


FIRST TESTS

The well thoughtout remote control handles set-up duties effectively and with almost worrying ease

Following the Award-winning success of Sony’s debut 4K HDR projector (the VPL-VW520ES), Sony’s second spec-heavy model could walk in greater footsteps only if it travelled to Bath and took the Jane Austen tour. While most in the AV world are still readying their first native 4K projectors (though JVC has now launched its first model – at £30,000), Sony has supplied the market with a fair few over the past year or so – all high-end, all highly commendable. As if the competition didn’t already have to play catch-up to keep up with the brand’s 4K projector output, it’s now also got to contend with its HDR inclusivity. The VPL-VW550ES is more a replacement in the Sony projector line-up than an addition, with the VPL-VW520ES (£9000) now being filtered out for this somewhat less expensive model.

Price (not spec) saver

The kinder sticker price seems to be more evidence of Sony’s magnanimity than any downgrade in specification. The 550ES is still a great hulk of a projector, and sticks with its predecessor’s 1800 lumens of brightness and 6000-hour lamp life. It marginally ups the contrast ratio to 350,000:1

It’s a more straightforward process than twiddling old-school dials, although we can't help feeling the lack of a true hands-on touch is a bit like cheating – like when we used a CD player rather than a turntable for the first time. If you’re all for making life easier for yourself, though, the Sony’s methods can’t be faulted.

A fine 4K picture

For those looking for their next 4K fix, we recommend Netflix’s Tale of Light which, as we load the streaming service via Sony’s 4K server, grabs our undivided attention – partly down to the accomplishments of the videographers, but mostly due to the projector’s delivery of them. Like its predecessor, the VW550ES fills our 96in screen with the sharpness and percipience that has you thinking twice about leaving the room. As we get up close and (almost too) personal to Alaskan grizzlies frolicking in the river, the picture reveals the texture and fine detail that gives their shaggy coats an almost unnerving tangibility. The Sony proves equally adept with mountain gorillas’ wrinkled faces and the mossy trees in the forests of Uganda. Even with streaming – inherently not quite as clean or stable a format as Ultra HD Blu-ray discs – the Sony’s 4K performance is clearly

brightness adding to the equation, the Sony relishes the opportunity to perform at the top of its game. There’s an even more broad approach to the colour palette in its wide range and subtlety, from skintones to snakeskin. The viewers eyes flit to places they perhaps wouldn’t normally: the shimmer of the sea, the shine of an animal’s wet coat, the glistening of fish scales. The fact that varying intensities of sunlight reflect off shirts is discernible, as is even the most subtle wear and tear on the boat. HDR isn’t simply about added colour nuance, but also widening the parameters for brightness and darkness. 1800 lumens is by no means spellbindingly bright in projector terms, and blacks here are of a good LCD TV level rather than OLED. Yet this Sony never feels lacking at either end of the spectrum. A zebra’s stripes are velvety black and, as night falls, jellyfish luminesce through the water. When handed the more mundane task of upscaling Blu-ray content, the Sony’s main preoccupation remains colour balance and fine detail, to the point where they can compete head to head with very decent Full HD projector performances. As we put on The Lady in the Van on DVD, the Sony is mostly successful in its dogged determination to rid standard-definition

“Alaskan grizzlies frolic in the river, and the picture reveals the texture and fine detail that gives their shaggy coats an almost unnerving tangibility” and now both HDMI 2.0 inputs (which join LAN, PC and USB inputs) are compatible with HDCP 2.2, to allow passthrough of a 4K and HDR signal. Delivering the 4096 x 2160 resolution (the native 4K figure for projectors) is Sony’s SXRD projector technology, a fixture in its models for more than a decade. SXRD is a hybrid of DLP and LCD projectors’ methods, and works by lamp-light shining onto a reflective mirrored surface topped by a layer of liquid crystals, which twist to let the required light for the picture through, and block the light that isn’t wanted.

Almost cheating…

While not quite the pop-up tent equivalent of a projector, the Sony comes close. Plonk the hefty (14kg) unit on a sturdy shelf, and set-up requires simply spending a few minutes with the supplied remote. Focus, zoom and lens-shift are all motorised, controlled by three separate and, thankfully, responsive buttons.

head, if not shoulders, above the best Full HD projector pictures. ‘Cinema Film 1’ is our preferred picture mode of the eight available within the menu, although ultimately we’d plump for ‘User’ (where you have most control over the tweaking of individual picture settings). The Sony’s contrast is natural without additional processing, although despite the picture being pleasingly steady in the default mode, we would make use of Motionflow – especially when playing Full HD material. It acts like a blast of hairspray, making things just a bit more stable. While in every other way the Sony is an irrefutable showman, its colour palette is, to its credit, more focused on realism and accuracy than eye-catching saturation. Muggy forests look natural, animal coats don’t appear single-toned, and shades of green reveal themselves as the camera picks out moss clinging to trees. That’s not to say it can’t pop with colour when the material is there for it to – the thick red and yellow face paint and elaborately colourful costumes of a Papua New Guinean tribe come through with solidity and stunning richness. Nature remains the theme of our testing as we move to Life of Pi on Ultra HD Blu-ray where, with the disc’s HDR and extra

pictures of blur and softness and kinder to viewers than Maggie Smith’s face in the process. It's not a miracle worker, it has no choice but to let some noise and softness creep in – after all, some serious upscaling goes behind the scenes here – but we find it more than watchable.

Big screen or big screen?

As picture technology advances, there’s no question projectors are now more closely aligned with their TV counterparts. But you have to pay a hefty premium to have the latest tech on a projector, and the choice of models is limited compared with largescreen TVs. Still, when there’s a projector as good as this Sony around, a limited choice is nothing to worry about.

says

Rating ★★★★★ PICTURE FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Sony’s sophomore 4K HDR projector delivers stellar performance at a lower price than its predecessor

www.whathifi.com 27


The Bristol Sound & Vision Show 2017

INSIDER

28 www.whathifi.com

Watch a demo of the latest home cinema tech and meet our experts in the Bristol 3 room, on the ground floor of the Marriott Hotel

The Bristol Sound & Vision Show turns 30 this year. Here’s what to look out for at the UK’s longest-running hi-fi extravaganza

T

he Bristol Sound and Vision show is celebrating its 30th year, making it the UK’s largest and longest running hi-fi show. Since 1988, the show has been a celebration of the very best the hi-f industry has to ofer. This year, 182 exhibitors will make their way to the Marriott City Centre Hotel for the show, which is spread over eight floors. Get your hands on the latest tech, from amplifiers to vinyl, headphones to home cinema, and chat to the manufacturers about their products. There are a few bargains to be had as well. Here’s a taste of what to expect at the Bristol Sound and Vision show 2017.

Arcam

One of the highlights of the Arcam room will be its rPlay audio streamer and DAC with DTS Play-Fi to which we awarded a Stars of CES accolade. Arcam will also show its £4000 AV860 AV preamp/processor with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 7.1.4 decoding, Class G amplification and full 4K HDCP2.2 and HDMI 2.0a compliance.

Acoustic Energy

Acoustic Energy is launching new versions of its AE1 loudspeaker, the first of which is the domestic AE1 Active speaker. It is also bringing the BT2 Bluetooth speaker, and a redesigned and updated AE109 speaker, which will be available in the spring.

integrated with built-in phono stage and DAC, and the X3, a standalone phono stage with separate moving magnet and moving coil inputs as well as adjustable loading and gain.

Harbeth

Bowers & Wilkins will show its 800 Series Diamond speakers “in a variety of configurations” for the first time in the UK. No specifics yet, but we do know that there will also be a new subwoofer featured as part of the system.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Harbeth is launching two limited-edition versions of its SuperHL5plus speaker and brand flagship, the M40.2. Both have a walnut veneer, a new ‘super-tweeter’ with protection bar and new audio-grade poly capacitors – and limited-edition badges front and back.

Chord Electronics

IsoAcoustics

Bowers & Wilkins

Chord is in two ground-floor areas this year, with three new products: the Hugo 2 DAC and Poly, a dedicated network module for Chord’s portable Mojo DAC. It will also show the new Blu MkII upscaling CD transport, designed to work with the high-end DAC, DAVE.

Exposure Electronics

New from Exposure will be its half-width XM series of amplifiers: the XM5

Making their Bristol debut will be the IsoPucks – small discs placed under your speakers to isolate them from the surface. The IsoPucks feature flange suction cups on the top and bottom.

KEF

The British speaker specialist will show off its LS50A Wireless music system in Concorde Suites 1 and 2. With 200W of built-in Class D amplification, Bluetooth


INSIDER

th

”Since it was first held in 1988, the Bristol show has been a celebration of the very best that the hi-fi industry has to offer”

ANNIVERSARY

and a 24-bit/192kHz DAC, it has all your hi-fi needs in a plug-and-play system.

Other exhibitors include: Audio Technica Astell & Kern Atacama Audio Blue Horizon Canton Chord Company Classé Dali Devialet Dynaudio Epson Entotem Focal GamuT Grado Henley Designs Hi-Fi Racks IAG IsoTek JL Audio JVC Lehmann Mission Neat Acoustics PMC Quad QED Tannoy Yamaha

Kudos

Exclusively showing at Bristol will be a prototype of the new Titan 707 speaker, a smaller, single-box version of the flagship Titan 808. The 707 will run in active mode with high-end systems from the likes of Linn and Devialet. Come and hear it for yourself in Bristol.

Monitor Audio

Taking up two rooms at the exhibition, Monitor Audio will have a 5.1 channel set-up of its Platinum II speakers, including the 300, 100, C350 and W15 subwoofer, in Room 1008. In Room 208, the Platinum II 100 and 200 loudspeakers will be paired with Roksan’s Blak amplifier and CD player. There will also be the Roksan Radius and Xerxes turntables on display.

Musical Fidelity

Looking for somewhere to store your music? The M6 Encore Connect might interest you: it has 1TB of internal storage that connects with network speakers and an analogue preamp providing fixed and variable outputs.

Naim Audio

In association with

One of the highlights of the Naim room will be the company’s all-new Uniti

range of wireless streaming products. This could be the first chance for many UK visitors to see and hear Naim’s impressive new line-up in action.

NuNu Distribution

Making their UK debut are the Micro Evolution One TAD-ME1-K bookshelf speakers. They feature a 16cm woofer and 9cm CST1 driver with beryllium tweeter. The speakers are tuned to give a ‘natural deep bass sound’, thanks in part to a bi-directional ADS2 port.

Q Acoustics

For 2017, Q Acoustics is showing off the finalised Concept 500 loudspeakers – they’re £3600 per pair, and weigh 42kg each. The prototypes were announced at the 2016 Munich show – the finished products have bespoke driver units, and “more advanced speaker technology than you can shake a stick at”.

Quadral

Quadral is bringing the Galan 9 desktop speaker to the Bristol show with the bold claim that “it is the best product we have ever made”. It’s the smallest of the range, with a 16cm woofer and a tweeter on top, but Quadral says it delivers a big sound.

Rega

In Room 224 on the second floor, Rega will launch a new version of its Brio 50W

Meet the What Hi-Fi? team Of course, the team of reviewers from What Hi-Fi? will be on hand throughout the weekend to answer your questions on hi-fi, home cinema and more. So, if you’d like some advice or recommendations on which piece of tech to pick up, have a problem with a product you’ve bought, or simply want a bit of a natter, we’ll be there to help. Plus, don’t miss the chance to win £10,000 of kit in the show competition.

What to expect at Bristol Sound & Vision Show 2017 • 182 exhibitors confirmed to date • Exclusive product launches • Prize draw of £10,000-worth of Award-winning kit to be won! • Special Deals & Offers For more details, visit www.whathifi.com

per channel stereo amplifier. It has been given a redesigned circuit board and two separate power supplies: one for the main power amp section, a smaller unit for the phono stage and preamp, a dedicated headphone jack and moving magnet phono stage.

Sennheiser

On the Sennheiser stand you’ll be able to see a number of headphones, including the wireless and noisecancelling PXC 550s, the HD 800 S, the new HD 5 series, and the new Momentum in-ear wireless headphones.

Sony

For the first time in the UK, Sony is revealing its new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, the UBP-X800. We managed to get a hands-on with the player at CES in January, but are yet to see it in action. There’s also an appearance from the new STR-DN1080 AV receiver, which supports Dolby Atmos (a first for Sony) and DTS: X along with 4K HDR passthrough and upscaling.

Wilson Benesch

Wilson Benesch is showing off the fifth iteration of its A.C.T. One Evolution P1 loudspeaker straight from Las Vegas. Using carbon fibre to dampen any sound colouration, it’s a touch of genuine high-end (£21,500) engineering.

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION Where? Marriott City Centre Hotel, Lower Castle Street, Bristol BS1 3AD

When? 24th-26th February 2017 Open daily, 10am-5pm

Adults

Online

On the door

One day

£12

£12.50

Two day

£21.25

n/a

Three day

£32

n/a

Seniors & students

Online

On the door

One day

£10.45

£11

Two day

£18.25

n/a

Three day

£27.50

n/a

Accompanied children

Free

Free

For more information, visit www.bristolshow.co.uk

www.whathifi.com 29


1

INSIDER 1 Exposure Electronics XM series £1240 & £660 With vinyl popular again, Exposure has launched the XM5 integrated amp and XM3 phono, with the former built for a ‘superior dynamic performance’. If you want to see – and hear – them in action, they'll be at the Bristol Sound and Vision Show in late February. whf.cm/2jEdwaG

INSIDER

TOP FIVE LAUNCHES

The new kit that’s caught our eye

2

2 JBL 4312SE £2300 JBL celebrates turning 70 by referencing its past with the 4312SE speaker. A direct descendant of the 4310/4311, it can be positioned either horiztonally or vertically, and promises powerful bass along with dynamic highs. whf.cm/2jGm9VE

3 3 Wilson Audio Yvette £28,800 Though it looks like something out of Doctor Who, this speaker is less about extermination and more about entertainment. Wilson Audio believes it’s the most advanced, most musically refined single-enclosure speaker it has ever produced. whf.cm/2jwb35N

5 4 4 Dual MTR-75 £250 German turntable maker Dual returns to UK shores with three new budget turntables. Top of the range is the MTR-75, which comes fitted with an Audio Technica MM cartridge, a USB output and automatic stop-and-lif feature. whf.cm/2jvuJmX

30 www.whathifi.com

5 HTC Desire 650 £TBC HTC has taken the covers off its latest mid-range smartphone, the highlight being its hi-res audio capabilities. With a 5in 720p screen and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip, it won't trouble more premium phones for performance. It does, however, retain the 3.5mm headphone jack.


Connect your home to a deeper music experience

Experience at John Lewis, selected Apple stores and our network of specialist audio retailers.

AirPlay is a trademark of Apple Inc.

naimaudio.com

Channelling forty years of audio engineering, we present Mu-so. A range of compact, yet commanding wireless music systems, that will unleash you music wherever it’s stored, in breathtaking quality. Advanced connectivity includes AirPlay, Bluetooth®, Spotify Connect®, TIDAL, iRadio and multiroom streaming.


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

G R O U P T E ST

Hear, there and everywhere It’s never been easier to bag yourself an affordable way of enjoying music away from home. And the profusion of Bluein-the-tooth speakers means you can be picky about sound quality too. As ever, we’ve done the legwork for you

WHAT’S ON TEST? Bose SoundLink Colour, p34 Cambridge Yoyo (S), p35 JBL Charge 2+, p36 KitSound Hive Evolution, p37 Libratone One Style, p39 Onkyo X3, p40 Philips BM6B, p41

32 www.whathifi.com

 I

t’s no exaggeration to say that, if you’re in the market for a portable speaker and have somewhere between £100 and £150 to spend, you’re spoiled for choice. All shapes and sizes, all colours and materials are yours to choose from, and it seems every manufacturer worth its Kitemark has a product vying for your attention (and your cash). We’ve assembled seven likely candidates for your money here, each very similar in terms of what they do, how they do it and for how long, but each quite different in the way it looks and the way it performs. Maybe you like the the cachet of a brand such as Bose, the established hi-fi credentials of Cambridge or the cool trendsetting of Libratone. Perhaps you like the shape of Philips, the feel of Onkyo, the look of KitSound or the ruggedness of JBL. But by the end of this test you’ll know how each of them sounds and, most importantly of all, which one you’ll be taking home – and everywhere else you go.


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

Join us on Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz whf.cm/playlist2017

Listen to our favourite tracks every month!

www.whathiďŹ .com 33


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

IT AIN’T HEAVY

Bose SoundLink Colour £100 FOR Large presentation; works well with vocals; portability

AGAINST Needs tauter bass; sound lacks finesse

★★★ ★ ★

The mere fact you can own a Bose product for less than £100 (the SoundLink Colour typically sells for £99) should be enough to ensure it makes many a portable-speaker shortlist. And why not? Bose certainly has experience in this field and has long traded on the ‘big sound from a little box’ approach.

“The Bose fits nicely into the hand and nudges the scales at a slight, portable 570g” Cast your ears higher up the frequency range, sticking with Daft Punk, and further issues appear. It sounds as if the Bose design team has played safe – way too safe. The percussion lacks bite as well as sweetness. Claps don’t crack, cymbals don’t shine. Add to that the somewhat pedestrian bass, and overall presentation is only average. Switch to Bat For Lashes’ In God’s House and the Bose delivers Natasha Khan’s vocals with good levels of detail. It also, during sparser moments, projects her voice with clarity. But the moment the band puts its foot back down, that unwelcome, unvarying bass reappears, resulting in a less interesting, less emotional musical ride.

Good ergonomics

The Bose fits nicely into the hand and nudges the scales at a slight 570g. This makes it eminently portable – in or out of the house. The shallow, rounded shape is also a great fit for rucksacks and suitcases, though some would welcome a bundled carry-case – the bodywork does feel a little brittle, and we reckon it would quickly pick up the odd scratch. The rubberised top control section feels a bit more ‘Bose’ and, for the price, overall build is fine. Also acceptable is the level of specification on offer. An auxiliary input backs up Bluetooth connectivity, and enables connection of any old-school tech you may be toting. The rechargeable battery, Bose claims, will give music breath for up to eight hours, and the package includes a wall charger.

Talking point

The Bose SoundLink Colour also offers ‘voice prompts’ when pairing. In action, this means it states the name of the portable device it’s hooking up with. This is unlikely to prove a deal-maker to potential buyers, but it may prove an attractive feature to visually impaired users. It’s also kind of fun hearing the speaker say your name, so no bad thing. The Bose does not, though, act as a hands-free speakerphone. Time to feed the SoundLink some tunes. And initial impressions are good. The top-mounted control panel is a picture of clarity and super-easy to use

It might not look very ‘Bose’ but the spec and features are up to scratch Try Daft Punk’s Give Life Back To Music and lower frequencies flood the dancefloor. This is the type of sonic character that causes visitors, initially, to stop and declare appreciation for your shrewd choice in portable speaker. But, as we say, these impressions are initial. Take a longer, more considered listen to the Bose and you realise that the bass on offer, while large in size, lacks focus. So Daft Punk’s album opener sounds big, certainly for the size of the Bose speaker, but it also lacks drive. Lower frequencies are soft, lacking the agility to give the song sufficient bounce. This little Bose has slightly leaden boots.

A modest presentation KEY FEATURES

Voice prompt

The Bose SoundLink Colour doesn’t go big on features. Nor does it suck up its design team’s budget in premium materials. Indeed, for a little portable number from the House of Bose, it lacks the visual flair of many from its stable. But, for £100, many would happily trade feature count and visual flair for an appropriate uplift in audio performance. It doesn’t quite make good on this deal, however, and audio performance lacks the lower-frequency agility and upper-end shine to maintain interest levels. For such a colourful looking bit of kit, this Bose sounds too monochrome.

Double pairing

says

Rating ★★★ ★ Wall charger

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A little speaker from a big name, this Bose lacks the sonic charm to merit our wholehearted recommendation

34 www.whathifi.com


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

EP ’S A SONIC WOLF IN SHE

CLOTHING

Cambridge Yoyo (S) £150 FOR Big, satisfying sound; balanced presentation; NFC

AGAINST Quite weighty; gesture control can be erratic

★★ ★ ★ ★ Cambridge says the woollen coating has been treated to repel dirt and water

Wool and hi-fi never used to go together. It was somewhat unpredictable, therefore, that the arrival of Bluetooth speakers also heralded a gaggle of natural fibre-laden portables.

Part of a trend

Joining Scandinavian brands and fellow natural-fabric lovers Libratone and Vifa, the Cambridge Yoyo (S) sports a jacket of wool. And lovely and cosy it looks, too. For the record, the yarn is by Yorkshire weavers Marton Mills, and it’s worsted wool (meaning, of course, that all the fibres run in the same direction). One question that springs to mind whenever we encounter fabric-covered hi-fi is, of course, ‘why?’ Cambridge says its bespoke fabric is ‘acoustically transparent’ as well as ‘treated to repel dirt, water and unnecessary wear and tear’. Reasonable answers, we think.

Ample componentry

Even though the (S) in its model name stands for small, the Yoyo is one of the larger portables at its price, hence its ability to house a long list of audio wizardry. The built-in amplification drives a pair of full-range speakers, a subwoofer and – round the back – a passive radiator. In addition to Bluetooth (with the option of NFC), connectivity options comprise an aux-in and a USB port, which is also ready to charge ailing mobile devices. The Yoyo (S) claims it will play for an impressive 14 hours – less, of course, should you have to decant some of that energy to your phone. Talking of audio wizardry, the Yoyo (S) is magic. What we’re talking about here is gesture control – swipe your hand from left to right across, but not touching, the control panel and music starts playing. Repeat the movement to skip track. Reverse direction and the music stops. This is great fun, although we did Gesture control is fun, but you can access most features via the top panel

“Swipe your hand from lef to right across the control panel and music starts playing” occasionally find we unintentionally initiated a request – when, for example, picking up a playing Yoyo. How frequently you use this feature probably relates to how often you combine your music listening with a bit of messy food prep. You will, though, demonstrate it every time someone calls round – that we can guarantee. You can also access the bulk of the Yoyo (S)’s features via its top-situated control panel, which is smartly rubberised, though the black-on-black icons aren’t the easiest to make out.

A fine line

First tester out of the woolly blanket is Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, and the result is fine. And we mean fine as in ‘excellent’ not fine as in ‘adequate’. The Yoyo (S) determinedly propels the bassline, staying musical and taut. Cohen’s voice sounds great, too – good detail helps expose the ridges of emotion in his baritone and this demonstrative delivery grabs, and holds, your attention. The Yoyo’s top end is as sweet as its lower end is melodious. Sharp treble is too common in portable Bluetooth

KEY FEATURES

Wool finish

7

Gesture control

Phone charging

speakers, but Cambridge’s tuning team keeps things sounding pleasant with even dynamically challenged MP3s. We’d like a little more top-end sparkle but, on the other hand, the tuning makes sense – this speaker will no doubt spend many of its waking hours playing background tunes. It might be happy in the background, but crank the volume and it will go nice and loud, remaining impressively composed and becoming the musical life and soul of a party. Sonically, it resembles the big-sounding JBL Charge 2+. Promoted as portable, the Cambridge Audio Yoyo (S) is just that. But its one kilo-plus weight means it’s easier to port it around the rooms of your house than tuck into the pockets of your rucksack. Wherever you listen to it, the Yoyo will ofer a big, detailed, rich sound. We sense a lot of thought has gone into this unit, and the care and attention has paid dividends.

says

Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT An accomplished portable Bluetooth speaker – the extensive feature list and smart woollen jacket are bonuses

www.whathifi.com 35


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

DOWN IN PRICE, UP W

ITH THE BEST

JBL Charge 2+ £110 FOR Rich, expansive sound; build quality; ‘Social Mode’

AGAINST Deep bass can sound overdone

★★★★★ “Listen longer and you realise the JBL invariably sounds big and impressive”

The JBL Charge 2+ was originally launched at £150. And even at that price it’s knocking on the five-star door. At £40 less, we throw open the entrance and welcome a bone fide rival to our UE Roll 2 2016 Award-winner.

Share – and share alike?

A larger and heavier proposition than the UE – it weighs in at 600g, well over the UE’s 330g – the JBL also has some tricks up its passive bass radiator-equipped sleeve. Most intriguing is the JBL’s ‘Social Mode’ option. Here you can connect up to three Bluetooth-equipped music devices, letting, for example, a group of friends listen to each other’s tunes. Democracy in action, you say? A sort of democracy, we suggest. In Social Mode, to hear your tune you just hit Play – the JBL immediately stops what it was doing and plays your song. Or, in other words, to punt your mate off the virtual decks, hit Play. And vice versa. Great fun. And the fun doesn’t stop with playlist queue-jumping. The Charge 2+ is another of those Bluetooth speakers that doesn’t mind taking the odd shower. Unlike the fully immersable UE Roll 2, though, it is just splash-resistant – it doesn’t mind hanging around the pool, but don’t ask it to take a dip. Should your phone run out of juice while you’re on your travels, you can hook it up to the JBL – the built-in rechargeable battery is good for up to 12 hours’ playtime, as well as for charging devices via its USB port.

Come to your senses

When it comes to kicking up a din, the JBL’s 15W speaker system uses dual external passive bass radiators to – according to the blurb – help you ‘hear the bass, feel the bass, see the bass’. Wired connections are via the micro USB port, Type A USB (for phone charging) and 3.5mm

It looks like it means business – and more than delivers on its visual promise We’ll reserve judgement on whether or not you will feel the bass, but wind-up the volume and you certainly can spot the bass radiators flexing their muscles. Spin something bass-heavy, such as Grace Jones’ smooth take on The Pretenders’ Private Life, and the Charge 2+ delivers a big, far-reaching sound. This rich sonic character soon sends you searching for more low-frequency fun, and it isn’t long before we are kicking back to Harry J Allstars’ Liquidator. The speaker is not, though, solely for big-bass duties. Switch to Jason Isbell’s delicate How To Forget and the JBL reveals good levels of detail – that gentle acoustic is apparent – and the vocals are full-bodied and emotional. Listen longer and you realise that the JBL invariably sounds big and impressive – great even in larger rooms – but also tends to cosset tunes in a (slight) film of audio warmth. A kind of sonic bubblewrap, if you will. It remains extremely

KEY FEATURES likeable, but the low end is certainly overstated, if still agile. 3-way connection

Bass radiators

Splash-resistant

Neat design, solid build

There is no need, though, to check the build quality before you invest. This is a superbly well put-together Bluetooth speaker. The rubberised finish looks and feels great, plus helps ensure a firm grip when you grab the unit. The soft-touch control panel is sensibly located and perfectly responsive, while the slightly raised base creates a steady foothold. The JBL Charge 2+ is a supremely likeable portable Bluetooth speaker. Its sonic character is bold and beefy, and we expect lots of listeners will warm to its, well, warmth. It also feels good in the hand, and the track-sharing Social Mode is a cool touch.

says

Rating ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A well-equipped speaker, with great build and a bold sonic nature. Just the room-filler many will be looking for

36 www.whathifi.com


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

THE BEE’S KNEES?

KitSound Hive Evolution £130 FOR Balanced presentation; decent detail; build quality

The KitSound name may not be familiar to you, but like as not it will be soon. The Hive Evolution is, at time of writing, one of 26 portable speakers currently ranged on the company’s UK website – so expect to see one in or on a store near you during 2017. What may prove more of a challenge is immediately recognising one of these 26 speakers as a KitSound product. The various visual styles offered are, shall we say, disparate. Check out, for example, the portable radio-aping, entirely-madeof-wood, KitSound Soul. Or the Invader, which, to our eyes, looks a lot like the plug to an airbed or dinghy. Our feeling is that KitSound is trying to please everyone all at the same time – but not necessarily with the same product. So whom is the Hive Evolution aiming to satisfy? The price – it’s one of its maker’s most expensive portable speakers – and build make us think it’s going for the more discerning buyer.

Physical fitness

The aluminium chassis is a good start. Cool to the touch, it carries an air of quality and it’s one of the better-looking units in its price bracket. Not just that, it appears durable and robust too. Take a peek round the back of the Hive’s honeycombed front and you’ll find an almost-matching fascia, with the addition of space for charging its battery, plus connecting devices via the bundled 3.5mm aux-in cable. In addition to omnipresent Bluetooth, you can use NFC for easy pairing, assuming your partnering device is suitably equipped. The supplied carry-case is a nice touch too, and the package includes slot-on global adapters for foreign climes and their oddly shaped mains sockets. To help deliver your portable’s audio, the Hive Evolution houses a 20W The battery-charging point, aux-in and power button are set on the rear fascia

AGAINST Needs more muscle and tauter bass; edgy high end

★ ★★ ★ ★ Distinctive design is a hallmark of KitSound gear. The Hive is well built, too

“The bass configuration creates a sound bigger than the uninitiated may at first expect” amplifier driving two 40mm speakers and a pair of passive bass radiators. The ‘look at our passive radiators’ line is a popular one in the world of portablespeaker marketing, and a dual set-up is no longer uncommon. Less common is a speaker that skilfully harnesses its technical features and fully delivers on the maker’s claims. And here the Hive Evolution doesn’t quite deliver the promised ‘perfect acoustic balance’. That bass configuration does create a sound bigger than the uninitiated may at first expect, but we’d like even more reach and spread. Jimmy Scott’s Nothing Compares 2 U cover is always a good listen, but here we’d like a little more reach with those bass notes. More definition, too.

A little edgy

Scott’s cover of Prince’s tune also exposes the Hive Evolution’s uppermidrange and treble. There is an edge to some of the vocals; just a little hardness that’s not present with the likes of the

KEY FEATURES

Bass radiators

20W amplifier

Award-winners in this category. This is not a trait scarce in sub-£150 Bluetooth speakers – the designers are working within pretty strict budgets after all – but it can definitely be avoided. This KitSound speaker does lots right, though. Its balance, though not ‘acoustically perfect’, is enjoyable. And levels of detail impress – listen out for the gentle percussion on Scott’s track and it’s there, well presented. Momentum, when not weighed back by deeper bass, is also fine, so pacier tracks aren’t held back.

Mark of progress

Carry-case

The KitSound Hive Evolution is an example of how far three-star portable Bluetooth speakers have come. Rewind a few years and this likeable unit would have rated higher. But up against products such as the JBL Charge 2+, the Cambridge Yoyo (S) and even the (significantly cheaper, but remarkably capable) Ultimate Ears Roll 2, it can’t quite justify its £130 asking price.

says

Rating ★★★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT It’s well balanced and well built, but the Hive Evolution lacks the audio reach and upper sweetness of its best rivals

www.whathifi.com 37


FO C A L

I

E LE A R

With a sophisticated design, Elear headphones create a personal and passionate listening experience. Inspired by Utopia, these open high-fidelity Focal headphones feature an aluminum/magnesium tweeter that will take you to the heart of the music. The leather headband and aluminum yoke offer ideal comfort. Contact your local Focal retailer to experience: www.focal.com


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

PLAYING IT SAFE

Libratone One Style £110 FOR Features; second-speaker option; controlled sound

Libratone pulled the rug from under its shiny, plastic rivals’ feet when it launched its cashmere-clad Beat portable speaker. Six years on, the company is practically a veteran of the portable speaker-maker family and models encased in natural fibres have become the rule rather than the exception.

AGAINST Plays it too safe – we’d like more emotion

★★ ★ ★ ★ emanate, comprises a tweeter, a woofer and a passive radiator. Business sorts, as well as cooks with sticky fingers, may appreciate the speakerphone. All we need now is great sound. The One Style has a good go at this last demand, but it doesn’t quite scale the heights of its best rivals. It’s close, but there is no need for the cigar cutter. This is frustrating as, to rival the best, this speaker just needs to let itself go. As with its looks, when it comes to sound the One Style plays safe. Bass is fine. Midrange is fine. Treble is fine. Overall presentation is good. Lower frequencies don’t swamp, mids don’t recede, and treble doesn’t bite. Everything sounds very pleasant. Detail is fair, too, so play Bowie’s Candidate and the speaker lays out the track in an orderly fashion.

Neat and minimal to some, safe and bland to others – the styling will split opinion

The new design rule

The One Style is very much part of the new rule. A minimalist – harsh critics might say bland – design, its standout feature is the thick rubber bumper that surrounds the chassis. This frame also provides a thick handle with which you can carry the Libratone or hang it up on a suitable chunky hook – kitchen pot rack, we’re looking at you here. You can also remove the rubber frame – Libratone says that this enables you to personalise the unit – but, at the time of writing, we couldn’t find the frames for sale separately on its online store. Removable frame aside, the Libratone feels well finished. That bumper lends a sense of bump-based security, and the grille’s mesh is neat. And, like any good Scandinavian, it doesn’t mind a bit of challenging weather, rating at IPX4 for its splash-proof abilities.

Goodies galore

The One Style produces a pretty fancy feature list from its rubberised pocket. The built-in battery, Libratone claims, is good for up to 12 hours of fun, and it will play nicely with Bluetooth devices – plus there’s a 3.5mm aux-in. It’s an inclusive sort, too – if you buy another unit you can use the ‘Bluetooth +1’ feature to enable a two-speaker set-up. To do this, download the free app, which is available for iOS and The rubber frame is removeable and can be swapped for one of a different colour

A need to break free

“The app has a smart interface, which lets you adjust sound and access internet radio” Android. It’s a smartly designed interface, which also lets you adjust sound settings, plus access internet radio stations. Nice touches. This model is also one of the portable speaker breeds that allow the pairing of two phones. The thinking here is that, say, you and a buddy can take turns in playing tracks. Very democratic. The claimed acoustic performance is also extremely free and easy, offering ‘360° sound’. The speaker system, from which this all-encompassing music is to

KEY FEATURES

Control app

But while Candidate merits military-like order to its marching beat, as the track progresses it also needs to be let off the sergeant-major’s leash. The Libratone, though, remains in step, refusing to cast off its inhibitions and really go for it. The result is you’re left wanting that extra snap from percussion, a more powerful bass punch, and increased levels of emotion and realism from vocals. Some perspective here: this is a good speaker, and a fine package. And we recognise the thought put into extras such as the app, which is a successful addition. But audio is the issue. The Libratone is up against more excitingsounding rivals, and it’s in the emotion stakes that it doesn’t quite reach out and touch you. But for those after a controlled performance it’s well worth a listen.

Switchable frame

says

Rating ★★ ★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

Double pairing

BUILD

VERDICT An appealing package with good features, but the One Style has a safe sound to go with its inoffensive looks

www.whathifi.com 39


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

OM MIDDLE-ORDER PLAY FR

THE OVAL

Onkyo X3 £130 FOR Wide soundfield; good detail; pairs with two devices

A fair assumption here is that the X3 is the bigger brother to the little Onkyo T3. And it is, undeniably, bigger, but the two models don’t immediately scream ‘siblings’. We’re thinking more ‘cousins’. Eschewing the ingot-like look of the little ’un, the X3 adopts an elliptical form. In the process, though, it loses the visual charm of the little T3. It’s sleek, yes, but it’s also a plain-looking Bluetooth speaker – especially when pitched up against rivals such as the JBL Charge 2+ (see p36) and Award-winning UE Roll 2.

AGAINST Lacklustre delivery; bass and mid need more power

★★ ★ ★ ★

Though bigger than its T3 stablemate, the X3 nevertheless still qualifies as a portable

The upper end of portable

The larger chassis – the X3 weighs 620g more than the T3 – naturally isn’t as handy as its cousin’s but allows the Onkyo to remain in the ‘portable’ category. It will still fit in your luggage, but it’s no longer a shoo-in for a handbag. The upside is more space for components. The X3 houses a pair of 45mm drivers plus a brace of 64mm passive radiators, driven by 2 x 4.5W max power. In addition to the enhanced audio muscle, the X3 maintains the T3’s portable power-pack feature – feel free to use a mains-charged X3 to revive your smartphone – as well as a mic for hands-free calls. The package includes a power supply and, handily, regional plugs, meaning one less device for your travel plug. Even without being attached to the mains, the Onkyo promises up to eight hours’ play from a full charge.

Two’s company

The X3 also offers a double-pairing function. Essentially, this enables you to simultaneously connect two devices, letting you instantly switch music between them. This feature is easy to ‘skim-read over’, but in action it’s actually pretty neat. Whether you’ve got a buddy over, or you and your partner connect, we came up with a fair few Even with its sleek, curvaceous form, the X3 looks pretty conventional today

scenarios where this option is marked ‘improvement’ on the kerfuffle of un-pairing and pairing devices – often to just hear one new track.

In comparison

At this money, the feature count is good, but the sound quality doesn’t receive our double thumbs-up. As expected it sounds bigger than the slighter X3, reaching further while delivering an evenly spread sound. Detail is fine here too, and individual instruments are clear and present. On first listen, the Onkyo also affords Holst’s Mars reasonable space in which to sonically breathe, but a swift comparison with other devices around this price confirms that this classic piece of classical merits more headroom. Switch to similarly priced, and sized, rival speakers and they give Mars not just space in which to maraud, but outer space, too. The X3 doesn’t bring the reach, or muscle, to match the best. Holst’s Planets Suite also exposes the X3’s limited dynamics and ‘matt’

KEY FEATURES

Bass radiators

Phone charging

Double pairing

“It enables you to connect two devices and instantly switch music between them” performance. Mars wants for the full impact of its dynamic sweeps and underlying threat, while Jupiter’s strings need more refinement and vigour – consequently, we’re left with Mars – The Bringer Of A Bit Of An Argument, and Jupiter – The Bringer Of Half A Smile. As is the way, the biggest problem for the Onkyo X3 is not its personal shortcomings – the unit remains well specified, adequately turned out, and overall listenable. No, the biggest threats come from rival products such as those mentioned at the top of our review. Standards have recently risen sharply in wireless-speaker world; these models set the bar high and the X3 fails to clear it.

says

Rating ★★★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Secures pass marks on features, build and (just) looks, but struggles where it counts most – the sound test

40 www.whathifi.com


WIRELESS SPEAKERS

LY GO FORTH AND MULTIP

There’s no need for a router, password or mobile app to use the multi-room function

Philips BM6B £140 FOR Multi-room ability; sound avoids harshness and sofness

Are you reading this and, at the same time, thinking ‘is there a Bluetooth speaker system which, at the tap of a button, plays the same music in up to five different rooms?’ Well, the answer is ‘yes’ and this Philips BM6B is it. For those not looking for multi-room, no matter – the Philips stops at one, too.

AGAINST Narrow soundfield; leading rivals sound better

★★ ★ ★ ★

In a world of striking designs, it hardly makes you want to get up and party

“If your choice of Metallica doesn’t meet with approval, other users can opt out” and the BM6B seems unable to relax and go with the flow. It does uncover detail – this is a busy track, and in this you should be able to identify individual strands – but it feels as though homing in on disparate sounds is too much like hard work for this speaker. Move from Candidate into Sweet Thing and it becomes clear the treble can sometimes sound brittle. Keep on trucking into Rebel Rebel and izzy leaves you wanting more get-up-and-go.

Multi-room potential

The BM6B is part of Philips’ ‘izzylink’ multi-room series – can we please call it izzy from here on in? Users can start with just a single speaker. To create a super-simple multi-room system of up to five units, simply add further izzy speakers. To create your network, give the ‘Group’ button a long press. The izzy then forms its own network, without the need for a router, wi-fi password, or mobile app. In each izzy set-up, any individual speaker can be the master, streaming music to the others. To take charge, hit your speaker’s Bluetooth button and, quicker than you can say ‘all for one and one for all’ you are running the show. Your izzy network now listens to the music on your device. If your choice of Metallica’s Hardwired doesn’t meet with general approval, other users can opt out of the multi-room chain, reverting to single-speaker use. So far, so izzy whizzy. We do wonder, though, just how many users want to play the same music in five different zones, especially without the likes of intuitive apps and control systems. In reality, we’re imagining a ‘one in the kitchen, one in the living room’ scenario. (Oh for a home where the living room is far enough away from the kitchen to require a second speaker…)

Water resistance

In addition to its multi-room skills, the Philips doesn’t mind the odd splash of water. Rated IPX4, it isn’t going to join you in 20 lengths of the pool, but it will happily cope with a misty moor, or – more likely – a misty bathroom. It’s also fully portable – not so many multi-room systems can claim that – with up to eight hours’ Bluetooth and four hours’ multiroom play available from a fully fed izzy. And there’s more – as the comic of the hat and the papal knighthood would say.

In the big league

KEY FEATURES For those listening with a buddy, it’s possible simultaneously to pair two music devices. The result is you can stream music from either device without the hassle of un-pairing and pairing. Handy for sharing sorts – though we always thought that the rule of the speaker was ‘he or she who owns the speaker plays the tunes’.

Diamond Dogs lack sparkle

Tested as a single unit, our Philips izzy, having impressed with its extensive list of multi-room and multi-user capability, lets the side down a little. Perhaps too much of the design budget has gone towards features, but the result is a speaker that lacks excitement. Play Candidate from Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and the Philips is unable adequately to deliver the track’s rising tension and increasing pace. One reason for the sonic shartfall is the Philips speaker’s cramped soundfield – a tune like this needs space to breathe,

Multi-room

Water-resistant

Overall, the Philips doesn’t sound bad – far from it. But at this price it’s up against some seriously talented rivals – both the Audio Pro Addon T3 and the Cambridge Audio YOYO (S) show it clean pairs of audio heels. (Just what would audio heels look like? The mind boggles.) This all means that this speaker’s reasonably detailed, and controlled, sonics don’t really rock our world. If sound performance is your be-all and end-all, you might wish to pass on the Philips BM6B. It’s also unlikely that its plain, upright looks will let your eyes overrule your ears. But – yes, there is always a but – if you are looking for an extremely straightforward multi-room system, one which also enables single-zone listening (and there aren’t that many), then stop and give this offering a closer look and listen.

says Double pairing

Rating ★★★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT If you’re afer a simple multiroom system then the Philips’ skills help outweigh its ordinary audio performance

www.whathifi.com 41


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WIRELESS SPEAKERS

TEST WINNER

JBL Charge 2+ £110

“It’s a smart design, with ideal dimensions for a portable and is a truly engaging listen”

A fine all-rounder – in every sense

G

ood news: the world of sub-£150 portable Bluetooth speakers is a competitive and impressive place to be. Levels of build, performance and, in particular, features have never been higher, which is great news for all of us looking for maximum return from our cash. Of course, terrific sound delivery still goes a long way to securing a product’s place on your list of potential buys but, for buyers with specific feature requests, there are some compromises to be considered.

Relative merits

The Philips BM6B offers a simple way to create a multi-room system – and at no stage relying on wi-fi to do so. There is much to like in this feature list, but when it comes to looks and sound quality the results are a bit ho-hum. But neither the KitSound Hive Evolution nor the Onkyo X3 make compelling cases as alternatives to the Philips. The KitSound is a great-looking speaker, and robust too, but in keeping with its muscular looks we’d like a beefier, more expansive sound. Some sugar on top of that occasionally harsh treble would be welcome, too. The Onkyo X3 doesn’t match the KitSound in the aluminium build stakes, but it does do a better job of spreading its sound. Unfortunately, that sound lacks excitement, and at this price – and below – there are better-sounding rivals.

The cheapest speaker on test here comes from Bose –not a statement you normally associate with the American maker. But this is very much prix fixe Bose as opposed to à la carte Bose. The compact SoundLink Colour works well if you anticipate carrying it around, but its sound delivery is less vivid. The Libratone One Style does a better job of separating itself from the herd. Well put together and well featured, it’s a solid contender. But we’re not completely smitten; many will wish it would loosen up and crank up the audio thrills. Two models, the Cambridge Yoyo (S) and JBL Charge 2+ battle it out for test winner status. The Yoyo (S) is the bigger

of the pair, and strikes us as more of an ‘around the home’ portable. It’s a lovely thing, too, complete with smart woollen jacket and gesture control system. And in return for the highest price on test you get a big, bold, room-filling sound.

The winning formula

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

HOW THEY MEASURE UP

But you must also check out the JBL Charge 2+. It’s a smart design, with ideal portable-speaker dimensions – big enough to deliver impressive sound, compact enough to chuck easily into a rucksack – and is a truly engaging listen. It’s a music genre all-rounder, too. Factor in its £110 price tag, and the JBL muscles past the impressive £150 Cambridge to claim portable pole position.

TEST WINNER

Bose SoundLink Colour

Cambridge Yoyo (S)

JBL Charge 2+

KitSound Hive Evolution

Inputs

3.5mm, microUSB

3.5mm

3.5mm, microUSB,

3.5mm

Battery life (max)

8 hours

14 hours

12 hours

8 hours

Bluetooth

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes (aptX)

Finishes

5

4

8

2

Size (hwd)/weight

13 x 13 5cm/0.6kg

13 x 25 x 7cm/1.2kg

8 x 19 x 8cm/0.6kg

6 x 21 x 7cm/0.8kg

Libratone One Style

Onkyo X3

Philips BM6B

Inputs

3.5mm

3.5mm, power

3.5mm

Battery life (max)

12 hours

8 hours

8 hours

Bluetooth

Yes (4.1)

Yes

Yes

Finishes

4

1

1

Size (hwd)/weight

21 x 12 x 4cm/na

9 x 20 x 5cm/0.9kg

20 x 9 x 9cm/1.1kg www.whathifi.com 43


T U R N TA B L E S

Cros

ley K eeps

ake

 T

he record revolution isn’t seeing music lovers pledging themselves exclusively to vinyl and closing down their iTunes and Spotify accounts, but is instead, for many of us, fuelling an accommodation between analogue and digital, where vinyl and streaming (and downloading) can coexist in harmony. Indeed, for those wanting the best of both worlds, the answer could be a turntable with not only the ability to play records but also to rip them to digital files, making vinyl playable and pocketable. That isn’t a privilege you have to pay through the nose for either, as this sub-£200 record-ripping turntable group test proves. (Just don’t go expecting the hi-res rips granted by the likes of the £450 Sony PS-HX500.) Here we have the “surprisingly inoffensive” four-star Lenco up against an even more affordable Audio Technica, and a Crosley desperate to avoid the dire fate of its two-star sibling. All three are bidding to be the ‘win-win’ audio solution to digital-friendly vinyl play – but which is more worthy of ‘My First Turntable’ status?


T U R N TA B L E S

B

G R O U P T E ST

chni

ca A T-LP 6

0-US

USB USP?

Join us on Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz whf.cm/playlist2017

Le n c

o L-8

5

Au d

io Te

Until recently, any budget deck that could turn analogue music into digital had a Unique Selling Point. Now, though, you need a wider skill set

Listen to our favourite tracks every month! www.whathiďŹ .com 45


T U R N TA B L E S

A GOOD STARTING PO

INT

Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB £100 FOR Clear and articulate listen; easy operation

AGAINST Sound could do with more solidity

Two budget turntables scooped What Hi-Fi? Awards last year: the traditional Rega Planar 1 (£250) and record-ripping Audio Technica AT-LP5 (£330), both more than worthy of ‘My First Turntable’ status – for those that can afford the outlay, of course. However, those with tighter purse strings don’t have much choice beyond the five-star Pro-ject Elemental (£150) or four-star Lenco L-85 (£120). Or rather, they didn’t until now. The Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB changes that, combining simple operation with a clean, balanced and organised sound and, like the aforementioned Audio Technica and Lenco, the ability to rip your vinyl to digital files. And all for the price of a handful of albums.

required) – but it’s not arduous enough to put off even the most clueless novice. Those won over by the tactility of vinyl may even consider it a bonus.

Some DIY involved

The Audio Technica offers a more understated aesthetic to the brightly hued Lenco or suitcase-style Crosley. Its plastic chassis, available in silver or black, wears a shiny, tasteful finish, and the streamlined tonearm mechanics and hood fixings mean that, at a quick glance, it could pass as a model costing twice the price. Set-up isn’t quite as straightforward as rival decks around this price, such as the Lenco and Crosley Keepsake. A little DIY is involved – the die-cast aluminium platter needs positioning and the belt attaching (no tonearm adjustment is

An upgrade dead end

Not one for wasting space any more than time, the compact AT-LP60-USB barely exceeds the dimensions of a vinyl cover. Like all the decks in this test, it should be positioned on a flat, rigid surface for optimal performance, well away from the connected speakers to avoid any risk of feedback issues. Once up and running, operation is as familiar and effortless as using a CD player, which seems to be the new (and rational) norm for entry-level decks battling with the convenience heralded by modern technology. The start button on the front of the AT-LP60-USB positions and lowers the tonearm and gets the record spinning, all within about five seconds, while the stop button next to it reverses the process. When a record finishes, the tonearm takes itself back to its cradle so you don’t have to worry about leaving it to its own devices. The button on the other side merely changes speed between 33⅓ and 45rpm. With a phono stage built in, the Audio Technica can be plugged straight into your system or a pair of powered speakers via an RCA cable, although a switch at the back gives you the option

“The AT-LP60-USB is an attractive entry-level deck that seeks to be a compromise between the allure of vinyl and convenience of digital music” A built-in phono stage means it can be plugged into your system or powered speakers

46 www.whathifi.com

★★★★ ★

of using an external phono stage instead, for example in your integrated amplifier. The latter path is one way you could potentially improve performance, however it’s worth bearing in mind that’s really where the upgrade journey on this deck ends. While the supplied stylus is replaceable, it’s not worth upgrading due to the restricted adjustment of the tonearm and thus the tracking force (which, in case you were wondering, measures 3g on our sample).

Articulate listen

We lay down Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call for the main event and while the Audio Technica is far from thin, its lack of solidity compared to the Lenco LP-85 is immediately noticeable. During Into My Arms, the gruffness of Cave’s baritone crooning is well communicated, the staggered delivery of the lyric is clear, and the piano accompaniment carries warmth. But the presentation as a whole isn’t as fleshed out as we would like it to be. That’s not the end of the world, though, especially as the Audio Technica trades its rival’s instantly gratifying boldness for better precision and organisation. As such, it’s a more articulate listen. Piano accents are well highlighted, and the flow of the simple percussion and vocal composition sounds more natural. The advantage of the AT-LP60USB’s discipline becomes all the more apparent when Lime Tree Arbour comes into play, too – it doesn’t lose sight of faint cymbal brushes or gentle bass plucks beneath the piano harmony any more than it does the organ notes behind the intimate vocal.

KEY FEATURES

33⅓ and 45rpm

Vinyl ripping

Replaceable stylus


T U R N TA B L E S

“The Audio Technica offers a more understated aesthetic than the Lenco or Crosley. At a glance, it could pass as a model costing twice the price”

The AT-LP60-USB’s plastic chassis is available in silver or black finishes

stop, start Controls are simple, with at the front d ate loc s ton but off and on/

There is enough space between the instruments for the presentation to sound coherent, but not so much that they feel disconnected – and that equilibrium is far from a given at the price. Elsewhere, the presentation is that much cleaner than its rivals too. A fair amount of detail is dug out from albums’ grooves and, without lacking drive or energy, it commits itself to a pleasingly easy listening balance. Recording from vinyl is a simple process too. Files can be ripped as 16-bit/44.1kHz or 48kHz WAVs by connecting your PC or laptop to the turntable’s USB type-B output, then using the supplied Audacity software to

sample The tracking force on our 3g tely ima rox app is set to

r PC Rip files by connecting you port e-B typ or laptop to the USB

process them. These files have a similarly even-handed character, although in terms of quality, expectations should be closer to Spotify streams than CD-ripped files (which upon comparison prove to be clearer, more detailed and more dynamic).

Vinyl allure

So what’s the catch? We pondered that too, albeit ultimately in vain. While we’d be grateful for a little more solidity and would still recommend either the pricier Pro-ject Elemental or Rega Planar 1 (for those who aren’t bothered about ripping their record collection) as the most practical starting points for anyone with a curiosity about vinyl, the Audio

laceable, The supplied stylus is rep rading upg rth wo lly rea not it’s but

Technica AT-LP60-USB is an attractive entry-level deck that seeks to be a compromise between the allure of vinyl and convenience of digital music – and largely succeeds in that objective.

says

Rating ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT This Audio Technica is a reliably articulate and well-featured deck, and well worth the fairly modest asking price

www.whathifi.com 47


T U R N TA B L E S

HAS A WEIGHT PROBLE

M

Crosley Keepsake £160 FOR Attractive, unique design; all-in-one deck

AGAINST Thin and restrained sound; heavy tracking weight

We’ve seen it time and time again in films: a character opens the suitcase at the allocated handover point, but instead of the small fortune in ransom money they expect to be inside, they’re faced with rocks or blank paper. The ensuing disappointment somewhat mirrors our own upon encountering the suitcasestyle Crosley Keepsake turntable. Perhaps our revelation shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, our previous experience with the company was its two-star Crosley Cruiser (£80). Its performance left much to be desired, and due to its cartridge’s unusually heavy tracking weight (more than 7g when around 2g is more typical), we felt it might actively damage your record collection. Here we have its big brother, the Keepsake, which unfortunately is guilty of the same crimes. It’s a shame that performance is a let down, considering it gets thumbs up for both its design and its features.

really need for this all-in-one deck is a record and a mains socket. Of course, as is more customary, a pair of line-level outputs allow it to also sit within a hi-fi system or be hooked up to powered speakers. A 3.5mm input allows a portable source to play through the Crosley’s speakers, and there’s a headphone jack for private listening plus tone controls to mess about with. It can play at three speeds (33⅓, 45 and 78rpm), caters for 7, 10 and 12in records and has the ability to record vinyl to MP3 and WAV files. All that’s required is to download the Audacity software from the supplied disc.

A hard bargain

Indeed, without further scrutiny, you may be forgiven for looking at the Keepsake’s spec sheet and crying out ‘bargain’ with glee. For one, it has a built-in amplifier and speakers, so all you

48 www.whathifi.com

The Keepsake is smart, well built for the money and portable too, but is let down by its sound quality

Feel the pressure

The Crosley is to plug ’n’ play what McDonalds is to food – quick and easy. Everything comes pre-fitted, including the tonearm, cartridge and platter, and there’s nothing to the set-up process bar putting the deck in place. Simply fasten down the transit screw, remove the tonearm clasp and cartridge cover, and you’re away. When a record finishes, the tonearm will even return itself to its resting place so you don’t have to worry about leaving the room to make a cup of tea.

“The Crosley is to plug ’n’ play what McDonalds is to food – quick and easy. Everything is pre-fitted, including the tonearm, cartridge and platter” The Crosley Keepsake looks like a suitcase, but it won’t keep your vinyl safe

★★ ★ ★ ★

There’s no tonearm adjustment to worry about – although that brings its own set of problems. While most turntable tracking weights are around 1.5g to 2.5g, the Crosley measures in at more than 9g. That means its stylus is putting three to four times as much pressure on records than is typical. As with the Cruiser, we wouldn’t leave your most cherished albums in its hands. Our impression of the Keepsake nosedives from there. The side-firing integrated speakers go loud enough to be heard across a decent-sized room and manage to avoid sounding tinny, but ultimately the presentation is woolly. It lacks clarity and detail, and every element of the sound seems squeezed down to a confined midrange.

KEY FEATURES

Built-in speakers

Background murmur

Listening through a dedicated amp and speakers (turn the Crosley’s on-board volume dial right down) isn’t much more inspiring. Though it’s much clearer – the presentation doesn’t sound murky and surface noise is thankfully kept low – and happy to chug along tunefully to whatever we place on its platter, the Keepsake sounds thin and restrained compared to the cheaper Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB and Lenco L-85. Neither detailed nor engaging, it struggles to make even David Bowie’s genius The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album sound

Vinyl ripping

6

Six finishes


T U R N TA B L E S

“The stylus is putting three to four times as much pressure on records than is typical. We wouldn’t leave our most cherished albums in its hands” anything more than background murmur. His vibrato vocal sounds clear and unmistakable, though not particularly expressive, but due to the Crosley’s lack of insight and dynamics the instruments around it sound lacklustre and cluttered. That shouldn’t put you off ripping albums though, as files are no less clear or balanced than a Spotify stream. We’d simply be wary of when you hit that record button as, as with lot of USB turntables we’ve heard, silent periods before or after a track are often contaminated by faint hum.

Off its trolley

The dials look pla sticky, but otherw ise we have no qualms ab out the build quali ty

The Crosley Keep sake is portable too , so you can take your vinyl out and abou t

Aside from its loose lid and cheaplooking plastic dials, however, we have no qualms with the deck’s general construction and build. The Keepsake is smart, well built for the money and practically portable. Unfortunately for Crosley, no amount of attractive (and well applied) leatherette vinyl wrapping – not even the most interesting finishes of the six available, in our opinion: ‘kilim pattern’ or ‘flower mandala’ – can divert attention away from the below-average quality of the turntable’s sound . It’s almost as if the deck’s name carries a hidden message: keep this Crosley out of your shopping trolley for the sake of your albums. In other words, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

says

Rating ★★ ★

★ ★

SOUND FEATURES

The stylus puts thr ee to four times as much pressure on recor ds than a typical deck

BUILD

Lin -level outputs allow it to sit withi na hi-��� system or be hooked up to spea kers

VERDICT Poor sound and an extremely heavy tracking weight are seemingly the curses of Crosley – this is no different

www.whathifi.com 49


T U R N TA B L E S

AFFORDABLE FUN

Lenco L-85 £120 FOR Enjoyable sound; user friendly; price; features

AGAINST Rivals offer subtler, more dynamic sound

Remember the DUPLO blocks you played with as a child before graduating onto proper LEGO sets? The Lenco L-85 reminds us rather of them: a product that gives you all the basics with the promise of more exciting things to come, while still being enjoyable in its own right. This is a semi-automatic, belt-driven turntable with a built-in phono stage. It supports USB recording. And it costs just £120. The bargain price may inspire misgivings, but the L-85 surprises us. And could surprise you, too. Lenco has tried to make the turntable experience as easy as possible, and this is one of the best plug-and-play machines we’ve come across at this budget price.

cables in the box, so you can get started straight away. Thanks to the built-in phono stage, you can plug the L-85 into the line-level inputs of your stereo amplifier, or directly into active desktop speakers such as the Wharfedale DS-1s. The L-85 also comes with a removable plastic dust cover that sits back neatly on its hinges. Our one small gripe is that there’s no LED telling you when the turntable is switched on.

Deceptive appearance

At first glance it looks and feels like a toy. It’s made predominantly of plastic, and is very light. But after a closer look, we can confirm that we have no complaints with the actual build quality. The plinth, platter and tonearm are all nicely made and all fit together neatly, and once we start using it there aren’t any wobbly or creaky parts – it’s an encouraging start. The plastic buttons for changing the speed (33⅓ and 45rpm) and recording are responsive. Our review sample is a vivid green, but there are five other finishes: red, yellow, black, white and grey. The analogue outputs are tucked away at the back, next to the power switch. Lenco helpfully includes a pair of RCA

Child’s play

The Lenco L-85 is designed to be as user-friendly as possible – and it succeeds. Everything comes pre-fitted, including the moving-magnet cartridge, and there’s no need to set the counterweight, adjust the bias, or weigh anything. The only adjustment you have to make is to set the auto-return motion. Move the arm to the end of the record and let go: it will calibrate itself and return to its armrest in one smooth motion. If you want to stop the record playing in the middle of a song, you don’t have to physically move the arm yourself either. Just press that big ‘Reject’ button on the front and the arm will automatically rise up and return. Neat. Lenco has another little trick up its sleeve: converting your vinyl into MP3 files so you can listen to your music when you’re on the move. It’s all done via USB as well, and couldn’t be simpler.

“Thanks to the built-in phono stage, you can plug the L-85 into the line-level inputs of your stereo amplifier, or directly into active desktop speakers” Everything comes pre-assembled so you can just plug in and play

50 www.whathifi.com

★★★★ ★

There’s no need for special audio software or tricky laptop hook-ups – just plug a memory stick into the front panel’s USB port, hit the record button when you’re ready, and voila – you have an MP3 version of your vinyl record that you can play on your laptop or copy onto your smartphone. You can also separate the tracks by pressing the split button. It’s a shame that it will record only as MP3 files, but remember this is a £120 turntable and the shortcoming becomes a little more acceptable. If you like the recording feature but want higherquality files, we’ll have to point you in the direction of the excellent Sony PS-HX500 (£450).

Sonic surprises

Time to find out how the Lenco L-85 actually sounds, and we tentatively put on Alice in Chains’ MTV Unplugged recording. It’s pretty good – in fact, it’s a surprisingly decent performance. A pleasing solidity clings to the midrange in particular, getting one over on the similarly priced Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB. In fact, voices are the deck’s strongest point, with Layne Staley’s strained and piercing singing on Down In A Hole coming through clearly – you can really discern the emotion he puts across in the song. The sharp twang of the acoustic guitar cuts through the hazier soundtrack of the rhythm guitar and drums in the background, which gives us a reasonable sense of the song’s structure.

KEY FEATURES

Semi-automatic operation

Integrated phono stage

USB direct recording


You don’t need to connect to a PC to record to digital a memory stick will do the job

the USB port Plug a memory stick into of your track sion ver 3 MP an ate to cre

It’s not the most detailed or articulate performance though, nor does the rhythm charge along with the precision and agility of the more controlled and orderly Audio Technica. It’s this that marks the difference between the two. Having said that, we should be clear: the Lenco’s sound is inoffensive Play Michael Jackson’s Beat It and the drum hits are too gentle and the bass is woolly, but the balance across the

including Everything’s pre-fitted – tridge car t gne -ma the moving

record a Pick your platter spee , tracks the t digital version and spli

frequencies is pretty even and there are no coarse edges at the top end. Play those USB-recorded files on your computer, and you’ll find the sound character is exactly the same as the Lenco’s vinyl performance.

song s essential structure rig t. The Lenco L-85 is a fine starting point for you or your kids to get into vinyl, or if you’re on a budget and want something decent yet affordable on which to play records.

Getting the basics right

Listening to the L-85 is equivalent to listening to MP3 or Spotify streams on your smartphone using £50 headphones. You know you can achieve much better

power The analogue outputs and the back nd rou ked tuc are tch swi

says

Rating ★★★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

“Voices are the deck’s strongest point, with Layne Staley’s piercing singing coming through clearly – you can really discern the emotion he puts across”

BUILD

VERDICT Great features and user-friendly operation make this one of the best plugand-play turntables we’ve come across

www.whathifi.com 51


HEARING IS BELIEVING

The M3 Soundbar. We know hearing is believing when it comes to sound quality. We can tell you it will fill your living room with superbly detailed and dynamic sound from both music and movies, but you’d be taking our word for it. To hear for yourself how the M3 brings life to sound, visit one of the approved Q Acoustics retailers below. Bringing Life to Sound.

Built-In Subwoofer

aptX® Bluetooth

Search Q Acoustics M3

Ultra Wide Sound Dispersion

MoviEQ™ Enhanced Listening

#hearingisbelieving

Visit qacoustics.co.uk/hear to find out more.


T U R N TA B L E S

TEST WINNER

Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB £100 For starting your vinyl journey or ripping your records, this budget turntable stands out

SYSTEM BUILDER Create a system around your turntable

f glu telev have are ofte conside pressed this tur more o It’s ce the budget is strict and you’re already rubbing your hands together at the thought of ripping vinyl to store on your smartphone or portable music player, the Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB is a perfectly good option from which to start your ascent to turntable heaven.

Combined talents

Performing above our expectations for a £100 turntable in almost every aspect, the AT-LP60-USB combines a balanced, organised and articulate sound with a smart, minimalist design and a semiautomatic operation simple enough for any newbie to get on with. As is often the case in group tests, if we combined the best of each entrant’s talents we’d have a superstar on our hands. With the Lenco’s solidity in the sonic department, and the Crosley’s interesting design, the Audio Technica would be a complete five-star package.

HOW THEY MEASURE UP

MICRO SYSTEM Denon D-M40 DAB ★★ ★ ★ ★ £350 dd vinyl replay to this seriously impressive Award-winning micro system from Denon

Or for a more traditional approach...

Still, it’s worth the money as it stands. And so is the Lenco LP-85, matching the AT for impressive features and design, although proving not quite as precise or convincing in tying a track’s musical strands together.

Heavy handed T H AT WA S THEN Back in the day, turntables were about the sound quality, not just the convenience (p130)

That’s two record-ripping decks that join the more traditional Pro-ject Elemental (£150) among our budget recommendations, but sadly we can’t add a third to that list (yet). The Crosley Keepsake, like the Cruiser we tested last year, lets down its unique design concept, all-in-one system claim and straightforward user experience with an uncompetitive and lacklustre performance – not to mention a heavy-handed reading of records that could, over time, cause them damage. The fact it’s the priciest of the three hardly helps its case, either.

AMPLIFIER Onkyo A9010 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £200 This Award-winning budget amp is one of the most musically satisfying we’ve seen

STEREO SPEAKERS Q Acoustics 3020 ★★ ★ ★ ★ £190 Refined, detailed and well-built, these budget speakers deliver great sound for the money

Total build £450/£490

TEST WINNER

Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB £100

Crosley Keepsake £160

Lenco L-85 £120

Dimensions (hwd)

9 x 36 x 35cm

20 x 44 x 33cm

12 x 42 x 36cm

Weight

3kg

5kg

2.5kg

USB vinyl ripping

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tone arm included

Yes

Yes

Yes

Semi-automatic

Yes

Yes

Yes

Speeds

33⅓, 45rpm

33⅓, 45, 78rpm

33⅓, 45rpm www.whathifi.com 53


HEADPHONES

G R O U P T E ST

A good pair of headphones is a vital part of your hi-fi system, so whether you follow your head or your heart, we’ll help you decide which of these three pairs of cans is the one for you

HEADHEARTHI-FI

WHAT’S ON TEST? Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z, p56 Beyerdynamic Amiron, p57 Fostex TH610, p59

vourite ns, our fa te it k n o an hiskers amp and ses and w pressive ro n im o n s a p , dro stem orget rain sound sy ’re a quality lly if you s. re a e n s g o h in p – especia d th a e e g y h n ll f e ra o ll a e pair u’d natu be a ch expensiv t to where yo kind can o t t, n h e g s rk t’ ri a a e m th sing th ney. And nd of the e o r thing m e e r h But choo m u ig o ans, or so lity for y rds the h c a a k u w c q a to d -b g n n u lookin of ope e sofa? vel of so for a pair ou on th higher le n next to y o yo u go d ex p e c t a le – ic Amiro p n o m g e a p si n the de turb the B eyerdy is e d th ’t – n d mention o n rs ud ntende stylish a ack so yo o new co chnica’s ? closed-b e have tw Audio Te w st , ut on top in st o a e te g a In this w ill com oing up ir g a – p h 10 6 ic ex T H 00Z. Wh and Fost TH-W10 superb A y ll a ic n so

F

54 www.whathifi.com


HEADPHONES

Join us on Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz whf.cm/playlist2017

Listen to our favourite tracks every month!

www.whathiďŹ .com 55


HEADPHONES

FIRST IMPRESSIONS CO

UNT

Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z £600 FOR Articulate and insightful; well built; closed-back design

Few headphones can claim a heritage to rival Audio Technica’s W series – the ATH-W1000Z marks the 11th generation of a range that started in 1996. As is the brand’s way, it’s a careful evolution of its predecessor rather than a radical departure. Audio Technica has tried hard to retain the traditional look and feel of previous W products, and has succeeded. These are large headphones, intended for use in the home. They’re a closedback design, good for blocking external sounds and not leaking your music out. Despite their size, the ATH-W1000Z weigh in at 320g, which is light enough to remain comfortable over long sessions. Unlike many similar designs, they don’t warm our ears excessively. Comfort has always been a priority for the range, and the W1000Zs remain true to that aim. They aren’t as stable on our heads as the Beyerdynamic Amiron, but you shouldn’t have any complaints.

IN DETAIL...

AGAINST Design may not suit smaller heads

Instead of a conventional headband, Audio Technica uses what it calls a ‘3D support system’, with cushioned paddles sitting on the side of your head. It feels a little odd at first, though the sensation fades. For those with a smaller head, we suggest a test run before buying.

★★★★★ The W1000Zs are large closed-back headphones, but despite their size, they are fairly light

Go with the flow

True to tradition, the Audio Technica W1000Zs sport beautifully made varnished teak wooden earcups and match the Fostex TH610s in terms of quality. Inside each earcup is a 53mm drive unit, mounted on a magnesium baffle and decoupled from the structure to control resonances. Plug the Audio Technicas into a suitable headphone amplifier – we use Chord’s Hugo for most of this test – and they deliver fine results. Our first impression is of a spacious, clear presentation and that opinion doesn’t change with extended listening. These closed-back headphones stand toe-to-toe with some of their open-backed rivals.

“Our first impression is of a spacious, clear presentation. These closed-back headphones stand toe-to-toe with their open-backed rivals”

The headphone jack matches the Audio Technicas’ varnished teak wood earcups

Audio Technica’s ‘3D support system’ has cushioned paddles on the side of the head

56 www.whathifi.com

We start with Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry and the Audio Technicas sound clear and articulate, conveying the easy-going flow well. They lack a little rhythmic drive, but there’s enough energy to keep us interested. Marley’s voice is rendered with convincing tonality – it’s nicely separated from the instrumental backdrop, making it easy to follow the various musical strands.

these – like the Beyerdynamic Amiron offer more in the way of dynamic subtlety and rhythmic prowess. But if you need the isolation properties of a closed-back design, this is certainly a pair of headphones we’d be only too happy to recommend.

Rhythmic prowess

Rating ★★★★★

The low end is a touch overstated, but not excessively – although you will notice it in comparison with the Amiron. It remains agile though, and never threatens to dominate other elements of the song. There’s plenty of power and punch when required too. Most of the Audio Technica’s rivals tend to be open-backed and the best of

KEY FEATURES

Teak ear cups

says

SOUND

Closed-back design

COMFORT BUILD

VERDICT Few closed-back models can match Audio Technica’s combination of insightful sound and lovely build

320g Weight: 320g


HEADPHONES

ABLE COMFORTABLE... AND

Beyerdynamic Amiron £545 FOR Clear and organised sound; insightful midrange

AGAINST Nothing of note

If we had to choose one word that encapsulates both the design and sound of Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones, it would be ‘comfortable’. But good reviews are usually longer and, besides, the Amirons are talented enough to be worth writing about.

be aware that people around you will be able to hear your tunes too. The fact your music will sound larger is a definite positive though – the sound quality on these headphones is superb. Blasting out AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’N’ Roll), the Amirons take the bagpipes in their stride, keeping a good grip on the high frequencies without any harshness. The midrange vocals in Fountains of Wayne’s Action Hero come across clearly too, giving an insightful rendition of the way Chris Collingwood drags and emphasises the ends of his words that the Audio Technicas just can’t quite match.

Larger and more spacious

Beyerdynamic has used alcantara microfibres (a blend of polyester and polyurethane with a similar texture to suede) and microvelour on the earcups and headband. The result is that you could wear these headphones for hours on end. They sit on your head easily, without feeling heavy (despite weighing 340g) and the pads around the 45mm drivers give even the largest ears space. As expected from open-back headphones, the Amirons leak sound like a sieve – while the benefit is a larger, more spacious quality to your music,

IN DETAIL...

★★★★★

Forced enthusiasm

There’s also tightness to the Amirons’ timing. The regular high-pitched pips that run in the background throughout the song are kept regular and rhythmic. And these headphones do a nice job of keeping track of instruments, even during the clash

The Amirons are light enough to wear for hours, but the open-back design leaks sound

“The Amirons leak sound like a sieve. The benefit is a more spacious quality to your music, but be aware that people around you will hear your tunes”

Alcantara microfibres and microvelour are used on the earcups and headband

The open-back design of the Amirons gives a more spacious quality to music

of distorted synths, drums and guitars in Mitski’s Puberty 2 album. Your Best American Girl remains resolutely organised via the Amirons, building to the climax without losing track of Mitski’s voice and ensuring that stays intact amidst the chaos and feedback. There’s no question the Amirons can dig down into the lower frequencies too, even without the over-emphasis on bass that is the current fashion. The growling engine sounds in Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust, for example, are both solid and detailed. Other headphones might sound more energetic, but the Amirons don’t force any extra enthusiasm into the song. The dynamism and punch in Queen’s low beats or AC/DC’s power chords comes straight from the music, rather than being hyped up by the headphones.

At this price, Beyerdynamic’s Amirons provide an impressive sound that takes the whole frequency range in its stride. We like the tight timing, and the way they handle messy songs. On the whole, the ability of the Amirons will keep you happy no matter what they’re playing.

KEY FEATURES

Open design

says

Rating ★★★★★ SOUND

Double-sided, detachable cable

COMFORT BUILD

VERDICT With these Amirons, Beyerdynamic has produced a pair of headphones that sound as good as they feel

340g Weight: 340g www.whathifi.com 57


HEADPHONES

GO BIG, OR GO HOME

Fostex TH610 £600 FOR Comfortable; punchy, surprisingly sensitive sound

AGAINST Need more clarity; harsh treble; poor rhythmically

As we know, looks can be deceiving. The Fostex TH610 headphones seem the part for a high-end pair of luxury cans, but don’t have the sound quality to match. They certainly appear classy, and the walnut housings are smooth and well made, each holding a 50mm neodymium driver. Their pads are made of artificial leather and fit snugly over your ears, so they are comfortable to use. Even the 3m cable – a gold-coloured rhodium 6.3cm jack on one end and a pair of detachable two-pin connectors at the other – is covered with a fabric that’s nicer to touch than most headphones at this price. As such, it’s a shame the TH610s don’t have the sound quality to complement their elegant design. Let’s start with the positives. These closed-back headphones go surprisingly loud. These cans are dynamically impressive, and can be relied upon for a big blast of sound.

What’s more, they know what to do with it, providing a good punch on the rapid bass that kicks off Kings of Leon’s Charmer. However, ‘go big or go home’ has never been the be-all and end-all when deciding the worth of a pair of headphones. Preferably, that force would be matched with speed and agility, but the TH610s aren’t quite as rhythmically adept as we’d like. Playing Hans Zimmer’s Dream Is Collapsing from the Inception soundtrack, what should be rapid and tense violins err on the sluggish side.

IN DETAIL...

★★ ★ ★ ★

The TH610s’ walnut earcups are classy, but sadly the sound quality doesn’t match

Mist opportunity

Tonally, the TH610s are far too focused on the lower frequencies – the cymbal crashes and the screams of Caleb Followill’s lyrics being hampered as a result. The naturally strained vocals need care and attention to ensure they don’t end up giving the listener a headache – but what sounds crisp from the similarly priced Audio Technica ATH-W1000Zs sounds unbalanced and brittle from the TH610s. During treble-heavy songs, such as the guitar strums of David Bowie’s

“The TH610s can be relied upon for a big blast of sound. However, ‘go big or go home’ has never been the be-all and end-all for headphones”

Even the 3m cable, with rhodium 6.3cm jack, is covered with a quality fabric

Starman, the high-pitched riffs, which sound sophisticated from the other two pairs in our test, are rather harsh here. There’s also a distinct lack of clarity across the frequency range – the synths in the climax of Vampire Weekend’s Diane Young aren’t as distinct as they should be, and Michael Stipe’s vocals in R.E.M’s Nightswimming are noticeably foggy.

Packs a punch

The walnut housings are well made, each holding a 50mm neodymium driver

Overall, it never truly feels as though you’re getting an insightful reproduction of your music from these headphones. That’s disappointing at this price, but especially so when you can spend the same amount on either the Amirons or the ATH-W1000Zs. There are a number of headphones available at this price with much better audio qualities and which will ultimately

handle your music more proficiently than the Fostex TH610s, even if they perhaps don’t look as good. The TH610s pack a decent punch, but need more detail and clarity, as well as a better-balanced and more refined tone, before we could truly recommend them.

says

Rating ★★ ★

KEY FEATURES

6.3mm jack

Closed-back design

★ ★

SOUND COMFORT BUILD

340g Weight: 375g

VERDICT Fostex has put a lot of effort into these headphones’ good looks; it’s a pity the sound quality isn’t up to scratch

www.whathifi.com 59


/VER  BRANDS BOOKED WITH MORE TO COME



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HEADPHONES

TEST WINNER

Beyerdynamic Amiron £545 Looks can be deceiving…

A

fter putting each of these headphones through their paces with a number of systems and out and about, we concluded that the Beyerdynamic Amiron is the pair that makes the greatest impression. Proving that you shouldn’t judge a pai of headphones by its looks, the Amirons aren’t as luxurious as the other two, but they’re more comfortable and you’ll definitely be happy to wear them all day But with headphones it should be about performance, and that’s where the Amirons excel. Whether it’s in the bass, midrange or treble, they have an all-around detail and transparency that means, provided you’ve got high-quality audio going in, you’ll get the same quality coming out. There’s a tightness to its lower end, too. It keeps a song organised, even when tested with distorted guitars, rapid drums or high-powered synthesisers.

SYSTEM BUILDER Build this little system around the Amirons

DAC Chord Mojo ★★ ★ ★ ★ £400 The Hugo’s sound, at a fraction of the price

LAPTOP Apple Macbook Pro £1500 Boost the sound of the best laptop around

Hole in your pocket

In terms of pure sound quality, the Amirons just pip the Audio Technica ATH-W1000Zs into second place, as good a pair as those headphones are. They also prove a far more enjoyable listen than Fostex’s TH610s. However, the Amirons are openbacked headphones and leak a lot of sound, meaning others will be able to hear what you’re playing. If you want to err on the side of caution, and choose a

R 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

pair of headphones with some degree of noise-confinement, we recommend picking up the Audio Technicas instead. But if you currently have around £500 to spend on some high-end equipment burning a hole in your pocket, the Beyerdynamic Amirons get our vote.

STREAMING SERVICE Tidal Premium ★★ ★ ★ ★ £20pm Takes on rivals with MQA-quality streaming

Total build £2465

TEST WINNER

HOW THEY MEASURE UP Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z

Beyerdynamic Amiron

Fostex TH160

Type

Closed

Open

Closed

Frequency

5-42,000hz

5-40,000hz

5-45,000hz

Impedance

43ohms

250ohms

25ohms

Sensitivity

101dB

125dB

98dB

Weight

320g

340g

375g

Cable length

3m

3m

3m

www.whathifi.com 61


TEMPTATIONS EXPENSIVE, YES. BUT YO

U KNOW YOU WANT TH

EM

Leema Tucana II Anniversary Edition | Stereo amplifier | £4995

One Anniversary worth celebrating FOR Powerful presentation; agile lows; nicely finished

AGAINST Most of the important changes are hidden

★★★★★

How time flies. In 2006, a small-scale speaker manufacturer launched its first electronics product. The Tucana integrated amplifier, alongside the partnering Antila CD player, established Leema Acoustics as a purveyor of quality hi-fi electronics. The brand has hardly looked back since then. Over the past decade the company’s range has expanded considerably, taking in more affordable electronics, high-end products and a wider range of speakers. But the Tucana has continued to be one of the highlights of the company’s output. To celebrate those first 10 years, Leema has released an Anniversary Edition of the amplifier, and we couldn’t resist having a listen.

system functions. It’s a little cluttered, but remains easy to use. The control layout is logical, though the feel of the buttons could be nicer – the same could be said of the nice looking control buttons on the amplifier’s fascia.

and the amp’s power supply upgraded with new, quieter mains transformers. There’s one transformer per channel in this dual-mono power amp design, with a third for the control circuits. There’s plenty of connectivity here, as long as you don’t expect digital inputs. While these are becoming increasingly common on two-channel amplifiers, built-in digital modules tend to be a box-ticking exercise rather than a real attempt to deliver top-class numbercrunching performance. Good-quality outboard alternatives such as Chord’s Hugo or Arcam’s irDAC II sound notably better than the digital modules fitted to most high-end amplifiers.

Fussy/fuss-free

At first glance there appears to be little to differentiate the Anniversary Edition from the standard MkII version. The casework seems unchanged, apart from the Anniversary badge and reworked front panel logo. It remains impressive, though. There’s an air of permanence about the metal structure. It feels immensely solid and has an engineered feel to it – we like the heavily machined appearance, but some of the detailing has started to look a little fussy. There’s no complaining about the fuss-free way the controls work or the confidence the hefty 18kg weight instils, though. This Anniversary model comes with the company’s new Focus remote, a chunky metal handset that covers all 62 www.whathifi.com

Internal improvements

As with previous Tucanas, this one can be integrated into a Leema set-up with the aid of LIPS – Leema’s proprietary communication system – so the stack of electronics operates seamlessly. The Tucana’s onboard control system still allows for different gain settings for each input. This is useful when you want to equalise volume levels between sources that have wildly differing outputs – as, say, the signals from a typical phono stage and CD players can be. So far this unit appears just like every Tucana before it. But delve into the details and you’ll realise there’s far more to this Anniversary model than just a new remote and a couple of badges. Take the aluminium lid off and the circuit boards have been upgraded with twice the standard amount of copper in the tracks, leading to lower losses through reduced resistance and an improved power delivery. Sound-critical capacitors have been upgraded to Nichicon’s Muse types, and all transistors are hand-selected for optimal performance and the lowest distortion. The internal cabling has been improved too, by the use of the company’s Reference 2 speaker cable

Enough is enough

Stick with analogue and you have a plentiful supply of single-ended inputs (six, to be exact) as well as a balanced XLR option. At the front you’ll find a 3.5mm jack for use with a portable music player or phone (though not an iPhone 7, of course). There’s also a tape loop and a preamp output for those that feel the Tucana’s 150W per channel isn’t enough, though we can’t imagine many people will feel that unless they have particularly inefficient speakers or an unusually spacious listening room. Leema is quite explicit with its published power output figures, claiming 290W per channel into 4 ohms and a mighty 520W into 2 ohms. These impressive numbers suggest the Tucana will be happy driving some of the most

Several new upgrades set the Leema Tucana Anniversary apart from the standard MkII version


The Leema Tucana Anniversary’s dual mono design is apparent from the internal layout

”Extensive upgrades haven’t changed the Tucana’s sonic character. It remains a robustsounding amplifier” www.whathifi.com 63


T E M P TAT I O N S

Six single-ended inputs and a balanced XLR option – but no digital inputs

demanding speakers around. We try a range of options (ATC SCM50s, Sonus Faber Venere S and Dynaudio M20) and never feel the amplifier is anything else but at ease. Each Anniversary amplifier is supplied with an individual passport, with each stage of the production process signed off by the engineer responsible. It’s a nice touch.

Stable sonic picture

We’ve always liked the Tucana, and it takes just a few minutes of listening to remind us why. The upgrades are fairly extensive but the sonic character hasn’t changed, even if the sound has improved. It remains an immensely robust-sounding amplifier – those impressive power figures readily translate into the sound we hear. Play something large–scale and demanding such as the Jaws theme tune from John Williams and this amp shines. Its presentation is as solid as you like, supported by taut, punchy lows. Those bass notes are unusually rich, though – rendered with pleasing texture and no small degree of agility too. Look beyond the lows and you’ll find plenty more to admire. Dynamics are delivered with confidence as the music’s menace grows. Yet nuances are well handled too, the Tucana showing plenty of delicacy when the music demands. The buttons on both the fascia and the remote could be better

64 www.whathifi.com

We’re happy with the sound staging – this amplifier paints a suitably expansive stereo image and populates it in a precise and spacious fashion. The sonic picture remains stable regardless of how challenging the music gets.

KEY FEATURES

150W per channel

Spotlight on the music

Tonally, Leema has given this amplifier a slightly rich and full-bodied balance. The top end is smooth without lacking bite, so the amplifier tends not to emphasise the weakness of less than perfect signal feeds. That’s a bonus for those who use the likes of Tidal or Spotify on a regular basis. Don’t think this tolerant nature means you can get away with less than ideal sources, though. This is a hugely capable and revealing amplifier, and you’ll hear the true breadth of its ability only if it’s fed a top-quality source. We play The Hand That Feeds by Nine Inch Nails and the Leema delivers the hard-charging beat with enthusiasm, keeping a firm grip of the insistent rhythm track with skill. There’s plenty of punch and power, but also the insight to unravel the dense production. This recording is packed with energy, and the Tucana is transparent enough to give us a full dose. Push volume levels higher and the amplifier stays firmly in control, the sound refusing to harden until we reach antisocial levels. We try PJ Harvey’s Dear Darkness and the Leema shifts gear effortlessly to deliver this sparse recording with conviction. Harvey’s haunting vocals are rendered with a suitably light touch, the amp making the most of her distinctive phrasing. The song’s minimalist rhythmic beat comes through with determination without dominating.

7x line level inputs

”This is a hugely capable and revealing amplifier, but you’ll hear its true ability only if it’s fed a top-quality source” There’s a lovely sense of space here, as the amplifier gives each sound plenty of space to breathe, and yet still manages to tie everything together to make a cohesive and musical whole. The Tucana captures the feel of the song, putting the spotlight on the music while the hi-fi mechanics fade into the background.

Energy and drive 3.5mm headphone jack

The headphone output is good too, retaining the refinement and drive of the sound heard via the speaker terminals – not always the case even with amps as expensive as this. We try both Grado’s PS500s and Sony’s Z1Rs to good effect, though dedicated units from the likes of Graham Slee do even better. While the Tucana’s price has steadily gone up over the years, so has its performance. This version may not look all that different from the unit we reviewed back in 2010 but we think it still stands up well in today’s market. If you’re after a premium integrated and want something that plays all types of music with equal skill you’ll have to go some to better this Anniversary model.

says

Rating ★★★★★ USE IT WITH ATC SCM19 Speakers £2000 With the right amp, these SCM19s will wow you with a dynamic, detailed and rhythmic sound

SOUND BUILD FEATURES

VERDICT The Tucana remains a top-class integrated amp. It’s one that works well across a wide range of systems and music


   

     

          

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TEMPTATION Sonus Faber Venere S | Stereo speakers | £4800

“A rare talent indeed” FOR Big, bold sound; refined and agile; good build

AGAINST More analytical alternatives for similar price

★★★★★

High-end Italian speaker specialist Sonus Faber is rightly considered hi-fi aristocracy. Since it was founded in 1983, the company has delivered an array of talented products, quite a few of which have become part of hi-fi legend. These are invariably the company’s top-end models, the no-compromise designs that are as much about luxury build and appearance as they are about the sound. Yet Sonus Faber also makes more affordable offerings – still premium, but without price tags that could hang off a new car. The Venere range is made up of these, and the S (for Signature) floorstanders are the range toppers.

unit, benefit from a die-cast chassis designed to be sturdy and open as possible (for improved airflow). The speaker’s crossover network is carefully calibrated to manage the signal handovers at 250Hz and 2.5kHz. A large-diameter downward-venting port is used to tune the bass, making the Venere S less fussy over placement than rivals with rear-facing designs. In our test room, we simply position the speakers well away from all walls and angle them in slightly towards the listening position. There is scope to play around with the spike height, which changes the distance between the port and the floor, but results are dependent on the type of floor covering. The Veneres are capable of an impressive amount of bass, so those with smaller rooms should look down the range, or to one of Sonus Faber’s other highly regarded standmounters. Most speakers at this level demand talented partnering kit and, while their relatively high sensitivity (90 dB/w/m) means that you don’t need a muscular amplifier to get room-filling volume levels, the Venere S’s 4ohm nominal impedance and transparent nature mean they’ll reward quality electronics. We use our reference Naim NDS/555PS streamer and Gamut D3i/D200i pre/ power combination for much of the test, with Linn’s outstanding Klimax DS 3 streamer, Clearaudio’s Innovation Wood turntable and Audio Research GSi75 integrated amp helping out.

Once up and running these are likeable performers. They have a forgiving, full-bodied presentation that works well with a wide range of recordings. Streaming services such as Tidal aren’t the last word in sonic quality, but the choice of music and ease of use make them essential for many people.

The nuts and bolts

They are undeniably big, standing a touch over 1.2m high, and are imposing but stylish. The two standard finishes are gloss white and gloss black, but for a £200 premium you can have the walnut option as used on our review sample. Build quality is good, though not outstanding for the price. Still, we’re impressed with the elegance of the heavily contoured side panels, and the neatness of the finish. We’d have liked the metal plinth to be attached to the speaker’s base with bolts rather than wood screws, but it feels secure enough. There’s no shortage of drive units here. Alongside the unusually large 29mm softdome tweeter there’s a 15cm dedicated midrange unit and a trio of 18cm bass drivers. Take a closer look and you’ll find plenty of interesting engineering. That dome tweeter is isolated from the front panel to prevent vibrations generated by the larger drivers spoiling its sound. The midrange uses a Curv cone, made from a mix of polypropylene and textile, and used for its mix of rigidity, low weight and damping properties. The trio of bass drivers are aluminium coned for rigidity and, like the midrange 66 www.whathifi.com

“This is a performance that gets us past the mechanics of hi-fi and takes us into the realms of just having fun”

Enjoy the music

We listen to A Seat At The Table by Solange Knowles and like what we hear. The Venere S deliver a firmly anchored sonic picture – stable and solid. The passionate but low-key vocals are rendered with fluidity. They’re fullbodied and articulate, but most of all, sound natural. Musically there’s plenty of punch and the speakers convey the changing momentum of the album well. Sensing the speakers are capable of more, we switch to music stored on our NAS drive. We start with Orff’s Carmina Burana and enjoy the scale and authority of the performance. We hear huge dynamic swings with no shortage of muscularity, impressive refinement thanks to a sweet and rounded top-end and a pleasing degree of agility. The presentation is organised and retains composure even when the recording becomes difficult – while the results aren’t wholly neutral, we like the unfussy, forgiving tonal balance. The stereo imaging is stable and nicely layered. It isn’t quite as expansive as some rivals, but remains precise. It’s worth spending some time getting the speaker positioning just right, as this aspect of the performance is strongly dependent on getting that optimised. Playing The Hand That Feeds by Nine Inch Nails shows that the Venere S can party. There’s plenty of attack, coupled to a surefooted sense of rhythm – an area that Sonus Faber hasn’t always nailed over recent years. This is an exciting and

The Venere S’s transparent nature means it rewards being partnered with talented equipment

KEY FEATURES

Three way design

Three 18cm aluminium bass drivers

Downward-venting port


T E M P TAT I O N S

The imposing but stylish Venere S’s come in gloss white, gloss black and wrapped walnut finishes

entertaining performance – one that gets us past the mechanics of hi-fi and takes us into the realms of just having fun. These speakers are more about enjoying music than analysing the recordings. The Venere S dig up a good, but not outstanding, amount of detail, but it’s the way they arrange and present it that makes them so appealing. Rather than get annoyed by the almost demo level of production on Bruce Springsteen’s Terry’s Song we’re taken in by the heartfelt lyrics as the Boss mourns the loss of his friend. These towers spotlight the emotion in his voice and arrange the sparse musical backdrop expertly around it. The impressive level of refinement means that the recording’s hard edges never intrude on things. It wouldn’t be hard to find an alternative pair of similarly priced floorstanders that dig deeper into the recordings and present the sound, particularly at low frequencies, with even greater precision. There are few, however, that manage to deliver the music in such an appealing manner. These are speakers that are more likely to have you thinking about the music you’re going to play next rather than the shortcomings of the recording you’re hearing. That’s a rare talent indeed.

says

Rating ★★★ ★ ★ SOUND COMPATIBILITY BUILD

VERDICT These are impressively musical speakers that are capable of making the most of a wide range of recordings

www.whathifi.com 67


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BUYER’S GUIDE

BUYER’S GUIDE

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 homeentertainment 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 we have Arcam’s onebox home cinema solution in the Solo Movie 2.1, Audio Pro’s Addon T5 is another fantastic and affordable wireless speaker, while Rego’s Brio stereo amplifier is an incredibly talented effort.

78

PRE-AMPLIFIERS

79

POWER AMPLIFIERS

80

CD PLAYERS

80

DACs

81

MUSIC STREAMERS

83

RADIOS

84

STEREO SPEAKERS

85

MULTI-ROOM SYSTEMS

95

STEREO SYSTEMS

95

TURNTABLES

96

WIRELESS SPEAKERS

98

HOME CINEMA BLU-RAY PLAYERS

101

HOME-CINEMA AMPLIFIERS

102

PROJECTORS

102

SET-TOP BOXES

103

SOUNDBARS

104

SOUNDBASES

104

SPEAKER PACKAGES

105

VIDEO STREAMERS

106

TELEVISIONS

107

PORTABLE HEADPHONES

109

PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS

114

SMARTPHONES

115

STREAMING APPS & SERVICES

116

TABLETS

117

ACCESSORIES ANALOGUE INTERCONNECTS

118

AV & HI-FI RACKS

118

HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS

119

MAINS PRODUCTS

119

PHONO AMPLIFIERS

120

SPEAKER CABLES

121

SPEAKER STANDS

122

Audio Pro Addon T5 “You’ll be hard-pressed to get something much better without dipping a lot deeper into your piggy bank”

Arcam Solo Movie 2.1 “A must-have for anyone afer stereo hi-fi and home cinema from just one just-add-speakers box”

Rega Brio “It’s the kind of amplifier we want to leave on and play our entire music collection through”

www.whathifi.com 71


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BLUETOOTH OUTPUT

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Bluetooth Headphones

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Perfect sound, without the wires. P7 Wireless combines advanced acoustic technology with aptX Bluetooth connectivity to deliver a seamless audio experience and 17 hour battery life.

NAD’s exclusive future-proof modular design allows you to customise your C 368 amplifier with additional capabilities and features. The two available MDC slots can accommodate a variety of upgrade modules including additional digital Inputs or analogue 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 highquality streaming music services.

This ultra-compact wireless speaker will change the way you think about personal audio, delivering up to 8 hours of Hi-Res streaming with its optional battery pack.

£319.00

£799.00

£299.00

requires optional MDC module

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Featuring a SACD/CD drive and 160W of amplification in a stylish, low-resonance enclosure, the Solo music provides high-quality room-filling sound.

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Easily connect the NODE 2 to any existing stereo or home cinema system, to unlock and discover a world full of music streaming services and Internet radio stations.

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Arguably the most elegant model in the range, the twenty5.23 takes the speed, transparency and sophistication of the twenty5.21 and adds greater bass extension and power. And yet its slim-line form doesn’t mean it can’t move you.

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The agship oorstanding speaker of the CM Series sets a new standard for performance. It combines technologies taken from across B&W’s ranges. The result simply sounds and looks beautiful.

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A deceptively slim and discreet oorstanding design, the Imagine X1T has wide bandwidth and high SPL output capabilities that defy its modest size. Features identical 5 1/4� woofers plus a one-inch pure titanium dome tweeter.

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Replacing the award-winning 2020i speakers, the 3020 incorporates numerous improvements including a revised cabinet with wool ďŹ bre 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 efďŹ ciency and power handling.

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&)$%% H44%+%& 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 ďŹ ll 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.

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Take hi-ďŹ to new heights with Bluesound’s next generation. Features improved wi-ďŹ performance, more digital and analog connectivity options and Bluetooth aptX along with support for premium music services like Tidal and Spotify.

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The new Q Acoustics Media 4 is a high performance Soundbar designed to deliver high ďŹ delity reproduction of music, and high quality audio from a TV or set top box, tablets and smartphones.

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3D sound reproduction equivalent to 7.1.2 channels realised using Yamahaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s unique Digital Sound Projector technology to let you enjoy movies and music with thrilling 3D surround sound. Includes Yamahaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s MusicCast functionality.

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This plug-and-play unit incorporates 9 integrated ampliďŹ ed 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.

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ÂŁ599

Featuring a BD/DVD/SACD/CD drive and 160W of breathtaking Class G ampliďŹ cation in a stylish, low-resonance enclosure, the Solo Movie 2.1 provides high-quality room-ďŹ lling sound. Four HDMI, coax, optical, phono and 3.5mm line inputs allow for ďŹ&#x201A;exible system building without being over complex.

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A fantastic option for movie lovers who want an incredible cinematic experience at home, far beyond the reach of TV.

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FOR THE LATEST OTIONS AND PRICES OM PR TV VISIT WWW.SSAV.COM ' %C D '&( The award-winning KS8000 SUHD with Quantum Dot Display delivers a new world of colour, brightness and contrast, embodied in a truly immersive ultra slim bezeless 360 degree design. TVs until now werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t able to display all colours of the world we see around us. SUHD with Quantum Dot display changes all that by expressing an exceptionally wide range of colours and breathing life into each and every one of them, giving you perfect picture quality with the most true to life colours.

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 *  C D ' $!&( The Sony Bravia XD93 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.

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PAGE 20 WORTH ÂŁ999


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS Stereo amps up to £500

The only products worth considering

HI-FI

AMPLIFIERS

THE BEATING HEART OF YOUR HI-FI SYSTEM

Marantz PM6006 £400 December 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

Best stereo amplifier £300-£700, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£500 to £1000

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 Brio £600

February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

NEW ENTRY

Rega Elex-R £900

AWARD WINNER

An upgrade on the Brio-R, this incredibly talented stereo amplifier offers a sound that’s subtle, precise and engaging. Power 50W Inputs 4 line-in Outputs 6.3mm, headphone, record

Best stereo amplifier £700-£1000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£1000 to £3000

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 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

78 www.whathifi.com


AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED AWARD WINNER

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

Rogue Audio Cronos Magnum II £2495 October 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£1000 to £3000

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

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 NEW ENTRY

Burmester 099 £6440

Preamps up to £9000

January 2017 ★★★★★

The 099 can pretty much play all your music files. It’s configurable and, in partnership with the 956 Mk2, delivers a smooth, enjoyable sound. Inputs 3 line-in Output Balanced, headphone, preamp DAC No

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

Boost your system with an amplifier

The heart of your system

Infuencing the sound

With great power…

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.

Some amps 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.

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.

Additionally, it allows you to regulate the volume you listen at. When several sources are connected, you will, of course, want to switch between them – an amp will let you do that.

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.

Modern speakers are very efficient, so it’s better to have a quality amp with a modest output than a brute that’s more about lights, knobs and facilities than good sound.

www.whathifi.com 79


Preamps £9000 and above

AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED 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

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

Burmester 956 Mk2 £8440

NEW ENTRY

Power amps

January 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Paired with the 099 preamp, this impeccably built power amp offers a smooth, engaging and full-bodied sound that needs to be heard. Power output 115W Mono/Stereo Stereo Inputs XLR

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 £500 to £1000

Best CD player £500+, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Cyrus says this player is its best-sounding yet, and afer 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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 80 www.whathifi.com


CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS CONTINUED Naim CD5si £1080 October 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£1000 to £1500

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

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

Roksan Caspian M2 CD £1900 Awards 2010 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£1500 to £2000

Looking for a top-class transport? The Xt Signature provides a sound that’s cleaner, crisper and more dynamic than its predecessor. Type CD transport Outputs Coaxial, optical

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

Metronome Le Player £5490 April 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£2000 to £10,000

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

Burmester 089 £13,320 A top-class player that requires a suitably talented system to shine, the 089 is one of the best digital sources money can buy. Type CD player Outputs Coaxial, optical, USB Inputs Coax, opt

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

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

£10,000 and above

January 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

Up to £200

Arcam miniBlink £90

Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

www.whathifi.com 81


CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS CONTINUED Audioquest DragonFly Black £90

AWARD WINNER

Up to £200

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 AWARD WINNER

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 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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 SE £290 Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A minor upgrade but a good one. The SE costs more than the DragonFly, but offers more features to go with its clear, agile and detailed sound. Inputs USB, 3.5mm Size 140 x 70 x 120mm Res to 384kHz, 16/24/32-bit

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

£500 to £1000

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

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

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

Chord 2Qute £995

Best DAC £500-£1000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

Chord Hugo £1400

Best DAC £1000+, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£1000 to £3000

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

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

Copland DAC 215 £2000 January 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A versatile DAC that can be used as a preamp. This understated effort is hugely talented and has an open, clean and precise presentation. Inputs RCA, USB, opt, coax Size 12 x 20 x 28cm Res Up to 32-bit/384kHz 82 www.whathifi.com

NEW ENTRY


DACS CONTINUED £1000 to £3000

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

Best Temptation, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

£3000 and above

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 £499 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

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

Up to £500

AWARD WINNER

Google Chromecast Audio £30

AWARD WINNER

Pioneer N-50A £380

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

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

£500 to £1000

AWARD WINNER

Cambridge Audio CXN £700

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best music streamer £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

£1000 to £2000

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

www.whathifi.com 83


MUSIC STREAMERS CONTINUED 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 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Burmester Musiccenter 151 £12,500 August 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£5000 and above

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 NEW ENTRY

Linn Klimax DS3 £15,800 February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If you want the finest-sounding music streamer on the market and aren’t afraid of the heavyweight price, then invest your money here. DLNA Yes Inputs n/a Storage No

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 AWARD WINNER

Pure Evoke D2 £90

Best radio under £100, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £200

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

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

Roberts Stream 93i £150

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best radio £100-£200, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

£200 and above

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

Geneva World Radio DAB+ £270

September 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

84 www.whathifi.com


RADIOS CONTINUED Revo Axis X3 £200 January 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£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

Revo SuperConnect £280

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

STEREO SPEAKERS THEY BRING THE MUSIC TO YOUR EARS – SO CHOOSE WITH CARE Eclipse TD-M1 £800 August 2014 ★★★★

Desktop speakers

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

KEF Egg £350

Best desktop speaker, 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

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

AWARD WINNER

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

B&W 683 S2 £1150

“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

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

AWARD WINNER

£1000 to £2000

Q Acoustics Concept 40 £1000

Best floorstander £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

October 2014 ★★★★★

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

Tannoy Revolution XT 6F £1000

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

Floorstanders up to £1000

AWARD WINNER

Q Acoustics 3050 £550

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

www.whathifi.com 85


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 store. 12th year of service

Lowest price guaranteed & take it home today! We’ll beat any genuine advertised price, voucher ofer or system deal, online & in-store, by up to £100!

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

Richer Sounds exclusive

Q Acoustics speakers (pair) 2020i (graphite)

Denon mini system exc. speakers DM40 (black)

Yamaha DAB/Bluetooth stereo receiver RS202D

Mission speakers (pair) MX3i

“They remain brilliant, beautifully put-together speakers. The Q Acoustics are a triumph.” – What Hi-Fi?

“Denon has done it again – the DM40 DAB is a seriously impressive micro system for the money.” – What Hi-Fi?

“A lovely receiver that connects to my Bluetooth for digital playback.” – richersounds.com customer review.

"Peppy and communicative, the MX3is are a real achievement at the price." – What Hi-Fi?

Call or see web

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RRP £169.95

179

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6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price Also available in silver

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Regular low price £199 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price

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RRP £249.95 | Regular low price £199.95

VIP exclusive Save £50 on any amp over £250 when bought with this CD player. Ask in-store for more details.

Richer Sounds exclusive

Denon turntable DP300

Marantz CD player CD6006

Marantz streaming mini system exc. speakers MCR611 (black)

Cambridge Audio amplifier CXA60

“The sound quality is excellent, with great depth and rich, high notes.” – richersounds.com customer review.

“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?

“A very good system for the price – smooth operation, great features, connections and efortless sound.” – richersounds.com customer review.

“A great amplifier that looks and sounds the part – this Cambridge is a big success.” – What Hi-Fi?

VIP Club price

199.95

£

SAVE

100

£

RRP £299.95 | Regular low price £249.95 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price

299

£

SAVE

100

£

RRP £399 | 6 Year Supercare £29.90 Also available in silver

329

SAVE

£

499.95

£

170

£

RRP £499 | 6 Year Supercare £32.90 Also available in black/apple green

6 Year Supercare £49.95 | Also available in silver

Why not add? The Chord Co. speaker cable Clearway unterminated

The Chord Co. interconnect C-Line (0.5m)

QED interconnect Reference Audio 40 (1m)

£

£

£

10

per metre

35

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.

109.95

Audioquest speaker cable Type 4 Terminated 2m pair

185

£

More in every store

Join free today and receive a fantastic set of privileges. Sign up in-store or online in seconds with just an email address.


Premium hi-fi

GUARANTEED

“Experience better audio performance. Pop down to hear how a top-notch system enhances your favourite music in our comfortable demonstration rooms.” Dawn, De

Roksan amplifier & CD player OXYGENE Make the most of our massive savi premium hi-fi system that looks as “The system brought the focus shar backing instruments were cleanly a These are components that make a proved sonically impressive too. It and yet unforced sound.” – hifinew

Amplifier

1999

£

SAVE

£1500

RRP £3499 | 6 Year Supercare £199.90 Available in various finishes

CD player

1999

£

SAVE

£1300

RRP £3299 | 6 Year Supercare £199.90 Available in various finishes

VIP exclusive Save £300 on any speakers over £500 when bought with either of the above units. Ask in-store for more details.

Arcam amplifier & CD player / music streamer “This dynamic duo packs a lot of power and performance. In short, it’s in a class of its own.” – Hi-Fi Choice

A39

1249

£

| 6 Year Supercare £124.90

CDS27

699

£

Audiolab amplifier & CD player

Roksan amplifier & CD player

“The 8300A is an excellent value integrated amplifier. The 8300CD is a stellar performer. Both highly recommended!” – Hi-Fi Choice

What Hi-Fi? described the K3 amp as “expressive”, and the CDDI as “rhythmically superb.”

8300A

K3 Amp

899

£

| 6 Year Supercare £89.90

8300CD | 6 Year Supercare £69.90

999

£

1300

£

| 6 Year Supercare £99.90

1350

£

“A premium music streamer with the performance to match.” – What Hi-Fi? on the 851N

851W | 6 Year Supercare £130

K3 CDDI

Audiolab available in selected stores. Check richersounds.com for more details.

Cambridge Audio power amplifier & network music player / pre-amp

1499.95

£

| 6 Year Supercare £149.95

851N | 6 Year Supercare £135

Amp & CD player also available in anthracite or opium.

1199.95

£

| 6 Year Supercare £119.95

Amp & network music player also available in silver

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

Free Chord Cobra interconnect worth £115 when you buy this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Free Chord Cobra interconnect worth £115 when you buy this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Free Chord Cobra interconnect worth £115 when you buy this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Free Chord Cobra interconnect worth £115 when you buy this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Richer Sounds exclusive

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

Save £150 on any speakers over £500 when bought with this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Save £200 on any speakers over £500 when bought with this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Save £200 on any speakers over £500 when bought with this system. Ask in-store for more details.

Cambridge network music player CXN

Arcam streaming system exc. speakers Solo Music

Cyrus streaming mini system exc. speakers Lyric

Roksan amplifier & CD player Blak

“The functionality, design and ease of use are the best we've seen at this price, and the engaging, punchy sound is sure to win people over.” – What Hi-Fi?

“There’s real force to the thumping bass, and deep extension. It communicates the dynamic outline of a track confidently.” – What Hi-Fi?

“A strong style statement and an even stronger sonic performance… It’s a superb system.” – What Hi-Fi?

“Powerful, punchy, feisty and tough. A thunderous yet supple and fluid sound that gets the feet tapping.” – Hi-Fi Choice on the Blak amplifier.

699.95

1299

2750

£

£

£

6 Year Supercare £69.95 | Also available in black

6 Year Supercare £129.90

6 Year Supercare £275 | Also available in stone finish

* Lowest Price Guaranteed, we'll beat any genuine advertised price, voucher ofer 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.

5350

£

6 Year Supercare £535


Headphones

Experience better sound on the move

VIP exclusive Get £50 off any Hi-Res Audio player when bought with these headphones. Ask in-store for more details.

AKG on-ear Y50

Plantronics Bluetooth in-ear Backbeat Fit

“Excelling in sound and style - a cracking introduction to AKG.” – What Hi-Fi?

“Secure and comfortable. Very good value for money.” – richersounds.com customer review.

49

69.95

SAVE

£

£

30

£

RRP £79

SAVE

30

£

RRP £99.95

Shure in-ear SE425 “These are very energetic in-ears, with solid midrange performance, and immersive sound.” – What Hi-Fi?

Sennheiser noise-cancelling over-ear PXC550 “Talented wireless noise-cancellers at an attractive price point.” – What Hi-Fi?

329.95

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.” Wasim, Manager, Prestwich. 12th year of service

VIP exclusive Save £50 on any headphones over £199. Ask in-store for more details.

Claim a 90 day free trial for Tidal worth £60. Ask in-store for more details. Ofer ends 28.03.17.

OPPO USB DAC / headphone amp HA2SE

DALI Bluetooth speaker KATCH (dark shadow)

Astell & Kern portable Hi-Res Audio player AK70

Naim wireless speaker Mu-so

“You’ll struggle to find better detail or dynamics from a headphone amp and USB DAC.” – What Hi-Fi?

“The size of the sound is simply incredible for something of the Katch's stature.” – What Hi-Fi?

“The AK70 sounds simply superb... Oodles of detail and plenty of drive. A very impressive music player.“ – trustedreviews.com

“Naim’s first entry into the wireless speaker market, and it’s an absolute belter.” – What Hi-Fi?

289.95

329

£

£

6 Year Supercare £28.95

6 Year Supercare £32.90 | Also available in cloud grey

995

499

£

£

6Y

S

2

£99 50

PLAY:3

SONOS

PLAY:1

We now ofer a free 6 Year Guarantee for VIP Club members on all Sonos equipment so you can have peace of mind for even longer.

PLAY:1

169

£

Also available in white

PLAY:3

249

£

SUB

SUB GEN 2

PLAY:5

Also available in white

PLAYBAR

Also available in white

PLAY:5

599

£

PLAYBAR

599

£

429

£

Also available in white

Samsung Wireless Audio 360 speakers

HEOS by Denon wireless speakers

R1 starter kit ofer

R7

“Sound quality is excellent from such a small unit. They’re also very quick and easy to set up.” – richersounds.com With 12 months customer review.

“A stylish, innovative and great-sounding speaker that takes multiroom technology to new heights.” – trustedreviews.com

Call or see web

Call or see web

Deezer Music

With 12 months Deezer Music

Also available in ivory

Also available in white

HEOS 3 HS2

249 £349

£

Also available in white

HEOS 5 HS2 HEOS 7 HS2 “Hi-Res streaming, designer looks and great sound quality. You'll not find much better than the updated HEOS HS2.” – pocket-lint.com

Get a demo in one of our 53 stores nationwide, or visit us at richersounds.com for more info

Also available in white

HEOS 7 HS2

Call or see web

Also available in white


TVs Latest tech, lowest prices

GUARANTEED

Our prices are changing daily to ensure you get the very best deals, so give us a call today and we’ll find the perfect TV for you.” Stephen, Manager, Reading. 6th year of service

Samsung 49" Ultra HD Premium Smart LED TV UE49KS8000 “Stunning picture quality across all sources, with punchy colours and plenty of subtle detail. A stunning all-round performance from Samsung’s flagship flatscreen.” – What Hi-Fi? “I’m really impressed with the TV for playing games and watching movies. Game mode is amazing for a 4K TV.” – richersounds.com customer review.

Call or see web

Also available 55", 65" & 75"

OLED

UHD PREMIUM

4K HDR

UHD PREMIUM

SMART TV

SMART TV

SMART TV

CURVED

UHD PREMIUM SMART TV

Samsung 55" Ultra HD Premium Smart LED TV UE55KS7000

Sony 55" 4K HDR Smart 3D LED TV Bravia KD55XD9305

LG 55" OLED Ultra HD Premium Smart TV OLED55B6V

Samsung 65" curved Ultra HD Premium Smart LED TV UE65KS9000

“There’s enough definition to count the individual raindrops on a windscreen.” – What Hi-Fi?

“Simply, there’s little of any matter that could keep us from imploring you to buy this.” – What Hi-Fi?

“LG’s 4K OLED screens have hit the jackpot. It’s very difcult to take your eyes of this TV.” – What Hi-Fi?

“Sharp picture and realistic colours. Another efortless five stars for Samsung.” – What Hi-Fi?

Call or see web

Call or see web

Call or see web

Call or see web

Also available 49", 60" & 65"

Also available 65"

Also available 65"

Also available 49", 55" & 78"

6 year guarantee included Projectors

For VIP Club members on the vast majority of TVs, projectors & wireless multiroom systems.

Over 30 models in our range Includes a FREE PS4 Slim. Ask in-store for more details. While stocks last.

VIP exclusive Includes £200 Richer Sounds voucher. Ask in-store for details.

Epson 3D projector EHTW6700 “The clarity is superb... even in daylight conditions. I am very pleased.” – richersounds.com customer review.

1299

£

Sony SXRD 3D projector VPLHW45ES

Sony SXRD 3D projector VPLHW65ES

“For gamers and home cinema fans alike.” – trustedreviews.com

"An excellent proposition for film bufs who want a compelling, cinematic picture.” – What Hi-Fi?

Call or see web

£

Also available in black

Also available in white

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 ofer 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. Sky ofer: Installation and set up fees apply. Full terms, conditions and exclusions can be found at www.lg.com/uk/skyq. New Sky Q customers only. All Sky Q kit is loaned to you at no cost and must be returned at the end of your subscription.

2799

VIP exclusive Get a FREE BDSP6700 Blu-ray player when you buy this projector. Ask in-store for details.

Sony 4K SXRD 3D projector VPLVW320ES “Capable of displaying stunning images. Another string to its bow is the upscaling of HD content.” – trustedreviews.com

Call or see web


is c Our for omp VIP AL let Clu L c ely b us to FREE me rs

Join the Richer Sounds VIP Club free today and receive a fantastic set of privileges. Sign up in-store or online in seconds with just an email.

We've got you covered for longer

We’re open for you, 8am – 8pm

VIP-only discounts

6 Year Guarantee included for VIP Club members on the

VIP Club members can book demos / shop by appointment between these times, Mon – Fri.

Special VIP Club savings on selected products in our catalogue, our emails, our website and in-store.

vast majority of TVs, projectors & wireless multiroom systems.

AV receivers “Experience better TV sound by adding a soundbar, sound base or home cinema system. We have something for everyone.”

AV equipment Dozens more in store

Ben, Store Manager, Birmingham. 10th year of service

Yamaha TV soundbar YAS93 “Provides a rich, natural sound and can’t be beaten on its stylish design.” – richersounds.com customer review.

99

Denon Atmos AV receiver AVRX2300W

£

“It's a superb sonic all-rounder and well-equipped with it.” – What Hi-Fi?

SAVE

50

£

customer rating

RRP £149 | 6 Year Supercare £9.99

VIP exclusive Save £50 on any home cinema speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.

Call or see web

Cambridge Audio TV sound base TV5 V2 “A sonically superb soundbase from the bass to the treble.” – What Hi-Fi?

299.95

6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price

£

6 Year Supercare £29.95

VIP exclusive Save £50 on any home cinema speakers over £200. Ask in-store for more details.

Pioneer Atmos AV receiver VSX1131

Onkyo Atmos AV receiver TXNR656

Pioneer Atmos AV receiver SCLX501

“A big, meaty and enjoyable performance from Pioneer, with an excellent spread of features.” – What Hi-Fi?

“Has excellent balanced sound with punchy bass and crystal-clear dialogue.” – richersounds.com customer review.

"The sound is phenomenal, I have put it through its paces with movies and music and cannot find fault." – richersounds.com customer review.

349

£

SAVE

200

£

customer rating

RRP £549 | 6 Year Supercare £34.90

Call or see web

customer rating

6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price

799

SAVE

£

200

£

RRP £999 | 6 Year Supercare £79.90

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

VIP exclusive

Save £150 on any home cinema speakers over £500. Ask in-store for more details.

Save £250 on any home cinema speakers over £500. Ask in-store for more details.

Save £250 on any home cinema speakers over £500. Ask in-store 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?

349

£

SAVE

250

£

RRP £599 | 6 Year Supercare £34.90

Yamaha Atmos AV receiver RXA1060

Yamaha Atmos AV receiver RXA3060

Onkyo Atmos AV receiver TXRZ3100

Q Acoustics 5.1 speaker package 2000i

“Yamaha delivers the goods with this powerful and articulate AV receiver.” – What Hi-Fi?

“The RXA3060 takes your home cinema experience to a whole new level.” – What Hi-Fi?

“In respect of home cinema this has yet to bettered; easy to set up and swap between devices via the handset.” – richersounds.com customer review.

“This award-winner is a must-hear for anyone who wants an attractive 5.1 system.” – What Hi-Fi?

1099

1999

£

£

6 Year Supercare £109.90 | Also available in titanium

6 Year Supercare £199.90

2299

£

SAVE

200

£

RRP £2499 | 6 Year Supercare £229.90

Most of our stores now ofer same day local delivery. Available in-store or by phone. Please ask for more details.

VIP Club price

399.95

£

SAVE

150

£

RRP £549.95 | Regular low price £499.95 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price


We will come to you! „

No job too big or too small

GUARANTEED

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.

„

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.

„

Corina, Deputy Manager, Swiss Cottage store. 4th year of service.

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 equipment A selection from our massive range

Philips TV soundbar Fidelio B5

Oppo UHD Blu-ray player UDP203

DALI TV soundbar KUBIK ONE (black)

Monitor Audio 5.1 speaker package Radius R90HT1

“It instantly transforms from a traditional soundbar into a wireless surround system. Seriously smart.” – techradar.com

“The pictures on ofer looked nothing short of spectacular.” – trustedreviews.com

“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.” – What Hi-Fi?

VIP Club price

499

£

SAVE

50

£

Regular low price £549 6 Year Supercare 10% of purchase price

649

799

1499

£

£

£

6 Year Supercare £64.90

6 Year Supercare £79.90

6 Year Supercare £149.90 Also available in white or walnut

3 great ways to buy In-Store

By Phone

Online

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, 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

Cardif 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 Shefeld 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 ofers are exclusive to What Hi-Fi? readers. Please quote this ad when calling. While stocks last. Valid from 05.02.2017 - 11.03.2017 All trademarks are acknowledged. E&OE. All featured products strictly 1 per customer/household. Some ofers 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 Guaranteed, we'll beat any genuine advertised price, voucher ofer 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 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 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

£2000 to £5000

PMC Twenty5.23 £2970

AWARD WINNER

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

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

Spendor D7 £3500 February 2014 ★★★★★

When it comes to insight and precision, these floorstanders set the standard at this price. Unfussy, and they deliver a huge sound for their size. Size (hwd) 95 x 20 x 32cm Bi-wire No Finishes 6

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

“If you’re looking for a top class, compact floorstanders, we can’t think of a better alternative”

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

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

Triangle Signature Delta £4900 July 2014 ★★★★★

“They’re entertainers of the highest order”

ATC SCM40A £6280

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

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

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

£5000 and above

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

A hefy slice of the performance of Focal’s high-end Utopia range, at a fraction of the cost. Impressive detail, dynamics, bass and timing. Size (hwd) 125 x 30 x 40cm Bi-wire No Finishes 2

PMC Twenty 26 £5750 November 2014 ★★★★★

This range of speakers hardly puts a foot wrong. Here, it’s the insightful yet refined balance and impressive levels of detail that win the day. Size (hwd) 109 x 19 x 44cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

ProAc Response D40/R £6125

October 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

As musical as they come, these are also as articulate, transparent and dynamic as any floorstander we’ve heard around this price. Size (hwd) 120 x 21 x 34cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 6 92 www.whathifi.com

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

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

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


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED 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

£5000 and above

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

Quad ESL-2812 £6500

AWARD WINNER

Mission LX-2 £160

Best standmount speaker under £200, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

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

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

Standmounts up to £300

AWARD WINNER

Monitor Audio Bronze 2 £280

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

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

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

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

£300 to £500

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

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

Dynaudio Emit M10 £500 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Dynaudio Emit M20 £600

Best standmount speaker £400-£800, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

£500 to £1000

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

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 www.whathifi.com 93


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED AWARD WINNER

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 AWARD WINNER

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

AWARD WINNER

Best standmount speaker £1200-£1500, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

£1000 to £1500

These are the most talented standmounters anywhere near this price. The transparency of their sound compares with far more expensive rivals. Size (hwd) 38 x 21 x 25cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 2 Powered Yes

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

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

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

Weighty, detailed bass, lively treble and a good natural balance overall. The energy of the 118’s performance will provide hours of enjoyment. Size (hwd) 38 x 19 x 24cm Bi-wire Yes Finishes 4

ATC SCM19 £1995

AWARD WINNER

Best standmount speaker £1500+, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

£1500 to £3000

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

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

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

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

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 94 www.whathifi.com


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED ATC SCM20ASL Pro £4380 October 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£3000 and above

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 Sonos System From £175

Best multi-room system under £500, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

Bluesound Generation 2 From £540

Best multi-room system £500+, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Multi-room

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’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 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Stereo systems up to £400

Denon D-M40DAB £350

AWARD WINNER

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

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

£400 to £800

Ruark Audio R2 Mk3 £400

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 www.whathifi.com 95


SYSTEMS CONTINUED NEW ENTRY

Arcam Solo Movie 2.1 £1500 February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£800 and above

For anyone looking for stereo hi-fi and home cinema in one box, this is a must have. There’s no 4K, but there are plenty of features besides. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, CD, Blu-ray AWARD WINNER

Arcam Solo Music £1600

Best hi-fi system, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

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

Moon Neo Ace £2500 October 2016 ★★★★★

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 AWARD WINNER

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

Pro-Ject Essential II £210 Up to £400

Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Rega Planar 1 £250

Best turntable under £500, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

Rega Planar 2 £375 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 £400 to £1000

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Rega Planar 3/Elys 2 £625

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 96 www.whathifi.com

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR


TURNTABLES CONTINUED Clearaudio Concept £1000

Best turntable £1000+, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

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

WIRELESS SPEAKERS FREE YOUR MUSIC WITH ONE OF THESE STREAMING WONDERS JBL Flip 3 £100 Up to £150

May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

98 www.whathifi.com


WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED Best portable wireless speaker under £100, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £150

UE Roll 2 £80

AWARD WINNER

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)

Audio Pro Addon T5 £180

NEW ENTRY

Februrary 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If a stationary wireless speaker is what you need, the T5 is what to get. Affordable and insightful, you’d be hard pressed to find better. Size (hwd) 13 x 25 x 15cm Battery No

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

£150 to £300

JBL Charge 3 £150 November 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Harman Kardon Go + Play £250 October 2016 ★★★★★

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

Monitor Audio Airstream S150 £150

AWARD WINNER

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

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

£300 to £500

Bluesound Pulse Mini £420

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 99


WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED Dali Katch £330

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best portable wireless speaker £200+, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 £300 to £500

Best wireless speaker £200-£500, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

AWARD WINNER

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 £800 and above

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

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 100 www.whathifi.com


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS

HOME CINEMA

The only products worth considering

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

£100 to £300

Sony BDP-S6700 £150

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

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 AWARD WINNER

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

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£800 and above

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

£1100 is a lot for a disc player, but if you want a quality component that’s as adept with music as it is with movies, this is top class. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD

HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS STUNNING SOUND THAT TRULY BRINGS MOVIES TO LIFE Denon AVR-X1300W £300 Up to £500

January 2017 ★★★★

NEW ENTRY

This entry-level AV amp features Atmos and good file compatibility. The app is flaky and the competition tough, but it is a talented effort. Power 80W Dolby Atmos Yes HDMI in/out 6/1

Sony STR-DN860 £400 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

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

£1000 and above

Yamaha RX-A1060 £1100

Best home cinema amplifier £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

102 www.whathifi.com

AWARD WINNER


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

AWARD WINNER

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

Best 4K projector, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

£3000 and above

Best projector 2000+, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£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 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

March 2016 ★★★★★

Catch-up TV is made supremely easy with this Freeview Play box. It’s a comprehensive entertainment hub with minimum fuss. Tuners 3 Storage 500GB, 1TB Ultra HD No

PVRs

Humax FVP-4000T £200

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

Set-top

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 103


SE-TOP BOXES CONTINUED Set-top

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

Best soundbar under £500, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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

Yamaha YSP-2700 £800 February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 v2 £250 Up to £500

February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

NEW ENTRY

A sonically superb soundbase from the bass all the way up to the treble. The lack of a display is a bugbear but forgivable. Just. Size (hwd) 10 x 73 x 34cm Inputs Optical, HDMI, 3.5mm

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 104 www.whathifi.com

AWARD WINNER


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

AWARD WINNER

Best speaker package under £1000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Q Acoustics 3000 Series 5.1 £700

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

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

Monitor Audio Bronze B5 AV £1500

Best speaker package £1000-£2000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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

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

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Up to £2000

SPEAKER PACKAGES CONTINUED Wharfedale Diamond 220 HCP £850

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

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 AWARD WINNER

ATC C1 5.1 £3250

“For small to medium-sized rooms, we can think of no better alternative”

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

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

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

Monitor Audio Silver 6 AV12 £2875

“No doubt worth every penny of its asking price”

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

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

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

VIDEO STREAMERS Up to £50

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

Games to play in 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Nintendo Switch

The latest Zelda game will embrace open-world gameplay. It’s not the only new element in the series, as this Zelda is the first to offer HD, voice acting and the ability to take Link wherever you like.

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Nier: Automata – PS4

A sequel to the cult hit Nier, this Japanese RPG tells a story about a war between humans and a machine army from another world. Given that the game was developed by Platinum games, you can expect some fast-and-furious action.

Mass Effect: Andromeda – Xbox One

Andromeda takes place several hundred years after the events of the Mass Effect trilogy, following a new character tasked with discovering new planets for humanity to colonize.


SPEAKER PACKAGES 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 AWARD WINNER

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

AWARD WINNER

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

Up to 40in

Sony KDL-32WD603 £300

Best 32-39in TV, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

Panasonic TX-40DX600B £500 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 3 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview HD/Play NEW ENTRY

February 2017 ★★★★★

An excellent all-round set from Samsung that’s proof 4K and HDR can be done well on a small screen. Costs a bit more than its rivals though. Type LCD/LED HDMI 4 Resolution Ultra HD Tuner Freeview/Freesat HD

Samsung UE49KS8000 £1300 Best 47-52in TV, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

40in to 50in

Samsung UE43KS7500 £800

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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 www.whathifi.com 107


TELEVISIONS CONTINUED Samsung UE55KS7000 £1300

AWARD WINNER

Best 52-50in TV under £2000, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

50in to 60in

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

AWARD WINNER

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

AWARD WINNER

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 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

How to set up your TV This brief guide will take you through the process of tackling the adjustments to brightness, colour contrast, sharpness and motion processing on your television to ensure you get the best possible picture.

Seeing the pattern

At What Hi-Fi?, we use test patterns from a THX Optimizer disc. You can find THX’s calibrator in the extras of some THX-certified DVDs (Star Wars, Pixar films). Alternatively, THX has a free app for Android and iOS. A good place to start is with the handful of preset TV modes. We tend to start with the’ standard’ or ‘user’ settings and calibrate from there. Contrast is another word for white level. A good way to test this is by using a scene with clouds. Turn the contrast right up to the top and notch it down until you start to see the detail rather than a solid patch of white.

Setting the brightness

Brightness tweaks the black levels. Turn it right up so the black bars above and below a film look grey. Then nudge the level down until they look black again. Focus on something dark – a jacket or shirt – and go as low as possible until you start to lose the detail in the creases.

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For colour, choose a colourful scene and see if the various hues look bright enough. Push the colour control up a little if you think they could have a touch more punch. Next, bring up a scene with human faces to see if skin tones look realistic. Adding sharpness has its place but it can leave an image looking unnatural. To get the balance right, take an image with a strong edge and focus on that as you nudge the sharpness up from zero. At some point, you’ll notice the outline will start to look unnatural and oversharpened, with a sort of halo around it – this is the indication that you’ve gone a touch too far.

Achieving clarity

When it comes to features such as noise reduction, edge enhancement and motion handling, our advice is to turn them off to start with and add in incremental steps as looks necessary. Use a test scene with as much full-screen movement as possible (eg a panning shot).

For more on how to set up your TV, head to our website (whathifi.com) where there’s in-depth information on everything you need to do.


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS The only products worth considering

PORTABLE HEADPHONES

BIN THE BUNDLED BUDS, AND INVEST IN BETTER SOUND

NEW ENTRY

Beyerdynamic Byron £50 February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

SoundMagic E10C £40

AWARD WINNER

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

In-ears up to £50

A spectacular return to the budget earphone arena for Beyerdynamic, the Byron sets the standard at this price with a peerless performance. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.2m

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best in-ears £50-£100, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£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

Bose SoundSport Pulse £170

NEW ENTRY

February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The best-sounding pair of wireless in-ears we’ve heard so far. The low battery life is a downside but the sound is fun and enjoyable. In-line controls Yes Cable length n/a

Focal Sphear £100 November 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£100 to £500

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

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

If you’re serious about the quality of your in-ear headphones, we’d point you here. The energetic, immersive performance is irresistible. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.6m www.whathifi.com 109


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Samsung UE55KS8000 4K SUHD 55” Smart LED TV

Sennheiser IE8i In Ear Headphones

Denon SYS2020 5.1 Speaker System

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Dali Katch Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

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£149.95

Bose Soundlink Mini Wireless Speaker

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£149.95

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£2248.99 Sony KD55XD930 4K HDR 55” TV Our Price:

£1349.99 Sony VPL-HW45ES Full HD 3D Projector

Sony VPL-VW320ES 4K Home Cinema Projector

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Sennheiser Momentum Bose Quiet Comfort

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HEADPHONES CONTINUED AKG N40 £350 £500 and above

Best in-ears £300+, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Shure KSE1500 £2500 November 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Philips SHB8850NC £90

Best noise-cancelling headphones under £100, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Noise-cancelling headphones

AWARD WINNER

AWARD WINNER

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 January 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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 £100 to £200

Best home on-ears £100-£200, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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 112 www.whathifi.com

AWARD WINNER


HEADPHONES CONTINUED Best portable on-ears £100-£200, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

£100 to £200

Philips Fidelio M1Mk2 £120

Beyerdynamic T51i £245 Awards 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

B&W P5 Series 2 £250 February 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Clear, precise sound, bags of detail, punchy rhythm – these gorgeous ’phones have the lot. We can’t think of anything to say against them. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 195g

Grado SR325e £300

Best home on-ears £200-£400, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£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 M2L £200 December 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

These Lightning-connected cans boast an exciting and refined sound. In fact, they’re the best Lightning-based headphones we’ve heard so far. Type Closed Connection Lightning Weight 200g

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 ★★★★★

AWARD WINNER

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

£300 to £500

B&W P7 £330

September 2014 ★★★★★

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

Audio Technica ATH-W1000Z £600 September 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation £850 Best home on-ears £400+, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

£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 www.whathifi.com 113


£1000 and above

£500 to £1000

HEADPHONES CONTINUED B&W P9 Signature £700 December 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

They’re not cheap but there’s no doubt these are talented cans. A retro look, stunning sound and a comfy fit make these worth their price. Type Closed Connection 6.3mm/Lightning in 2017 Weight 413g

Sennheiser HD800S £1200 June 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Wireless up to £300

AKG Y50BT £130

AWARD WINNER

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

Best wireless headphones £200-£300, Awards 2016 ★★★★★

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

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

AWARD WINNER

£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 January 2017 ★★★★★

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

Up to £400

Apple iPod Touch (6th Gen) 128GB £330 December 2015 ★★★★★

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

Sony NW-AH25N £240

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

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

February 2016 ★★★★

£400 to £700

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 ★★★★★

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

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PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

“The sonic improvements over the Jr are more evolutionary than revolutionary”


PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS CONTINUED 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

“An affordable player with a touch of premium quality”

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 NEW ENTRY

Onkyo DP-X1 £700 January 2017 ★★★★

Sony NW-ZX2 £950 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

It’s stocked with plenty of features, support for MQA and up to 432GB of storage, but the sound is short on solidity and rhythmic ability. Hi-res compatible Yes Weight 203g Storage Up to 432GB

“Sounds more than comfortable at its loudest thanks to the spaciousness and neutral tonality of its presentation”

£400 to £700

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

Pioneer XDP-100R £500

SMARTPHONES SUPERB MUSIC AND VIDEO PLAYERS THAT MAKE PHONE CALLS TOO

“There’s no doubt the iPhone 7 is Apple’s most controversial handset to date”

The lack of a headphone jack distracts from what is a sterling upgrade; an improved screen, camera and sound, plus faster performance. OS iOS Size (hwd) 138 x 67 x 7mm Storage 28/128/256GB

LG G5 (with Hi-Fi Plus DAC)

Best smartphone, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

HTC 10

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

“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”

Over 5in

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

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Under 5in

Apple iPhone 7

Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Smartphones: things to consider How much does it cost?

You’ll notice we don’t quote prices in the Buyer’s Guide. That’s down to the sheer number of service providers and the varying packages available. Even so, a phone such as the OnePlus 3 or Google’s Nexus 5X will be cheaper than the higher specc’d iPhones or Samsung Galaxies, whether you’re on pay-as-you-go, contract or buying outright.

Which operating system is right for you?

Apps are key here. Apple’s iOS has led the way to date because of the sheer number of apps available, but the choice and variety on Android is now comparable. Windows 10 has made some headway but its main inn ovation is the Cortana, Windows’ personal assistant that rivals Apple’s Siri and Google’s new Assistant.

www.whathifi.com 115


SMARTPHONES CONTINUED NEW ENTRY

Google Pixel XL

Over 5in

January 2017 ★★★★

The results are mostly impressive from this first phone made by Google. The interface, camera and screen are great, but the sound disappoints. OS Android Size (hwd) 155 x 76 x 9mm Storage Up to 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

“The organic Android experience, now slicker and more user friendly than ever, is a joy to use”

“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

On demand video

BBC iPlayer Free

Awards 2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Google Play Movies & TV Variable

June 2014 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Qobuz Sublime £220/pa

On demand music

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 Video apps

Janaury 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Cheaper than Netflix and with an extensive catalogue geared to new releases as well as 4K and HDR content, this is now a fantastic service. 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 Yes

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 116 www.whathifi.com


STREAMING APPS CONTINUED Video apps

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 December 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Apple’s music service has intelligent curation, an extensive catalogue, very good sound quality and an engaging live radio station. Sound quality Up to 256kbps AAC Offline playback Yes

Music apps

Spotify from free

December 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Its accessibility, ease of use, huge catalogue and more mature music disovery are reasons why Spotify remains at the top of the pile. Sound quality Up to 320kbps Ogg Vorbis Offline playback Yes AWARD WINNER

Tidal from £10/month

Best music streaming service, Awards 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

TABLETS TOUCHSCREEN HEAVEN, WITH LAPTOP SMARTS

Under 8in

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

Over 8in

Apple iPad Pro (9.7in) from £499 July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

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

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

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 117


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS The only products worth considering

ACCESSORIES ANALOGUE INTERCONNECTS

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

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

Up to £50

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

Chord Company C-Line £45

Best analogue interconnect, Awards 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AWARD WINNER

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

QED Performance Audio 40 £45 Reviewed online ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

£50 and above

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

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

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

AV & HI-FI RACKS

Up to £500

HI-FI KIT CAN ONLY SOUND ITS BEST WITH THE PROPER SUPPORT Atacama Eris Eco 5.0 £460

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

April 2012 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Atacama Elite Eco 12.0 £500

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

£500 and above

March 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Atacama Evoque Eco 60-40 SE £525 Best equipment 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

118 www.whathifi.com

AWARD WINNER

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


HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS HOW TO GET THE VERY BEST FROM YOUR CANS Audio Technica AT-HA5050H £4500

July 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Up to £5000

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 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Up to £200

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.

Available instore or online

ZZZULFKHUVRXQGVFRP

www.whathifi.com 119


MAINS PRODUCTS CONTINUED Isotek EVO Polaris + Premier cable ÂŁ400 ÂŁ200 and above

September 2015 â&#x2DC;&#x2026;â&#x2DC;&#x2026;â&#x2DC;&#x2026;â&#x2DC;&#x2026;

OďŹ&#x20AC;ers a signiďŹ cant improvement over just plugging your hi-ďŹ into the wall, allowing your system to sound more positive and conďŹ dent. Type Cable + block Mains ďŹ lter Yes No. of plugs 6

Russ Andrews X6 ÂŁ350 September 2015 â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026;

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 ďŹ lter Yes No. of plugs 6

PHONO AMPLIFIERS EVERY RECORD DECK NEEDS A PHONO AMP Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator ÂŁ160 Up to ÂŁ200

June 2013 â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026;

Fast, organised and dynamic, this box oďŹ&#x20AC;ers 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 ÂŁ85 March 2012 â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026;

Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s little fancy about the Fono Mini A2D but that doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter when the presentation is this good. And it has a useful USB output. Type MM Dimensions (hwd) 6 x 18 x 25cm

Rega Aria ÂŁ800 ÂŁ200 to ÂŁ1000

December 2015 â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026;

A phono stage of rare quality for under ÂŁ1000, the Rega Aria performs superbly â&#x20AC;&#x201C; as long as the rest of your system is suitably talented. Type MM, MC Dimensions (hwd) 8 x 22 x 32cm AWARD WINNER

Rega Fono MM Mk2 ÂŁ200

Best phono stage, Awards 2016 â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026; â&#x2DC;&#x2026;

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

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PHONO AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2 £1900 May 2016 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Pathos In The Groove £1250 February 2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

NEW ENTRY

Provided you have a suitably talented turntable, this is a fine and flexible phono stage that beautifully combines refinement with insight. Type MM, MC Dimensions (hwd) 7 x 20 x 26cm

£1000 and above

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 ONE OF THE MOST COST-EFFECTIVE UPGRADES YOU CAN MAKE Audioquest FLX-SLiP 14/4 £5.80/m November 2013 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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

Up to £10/m

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

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

www.whathifi.com 121


Up to £10/m

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

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

£10/m and above

Chord Company Clearway £10/m

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

£200 and above

£100 to £200

Up to £100

STANDMOUNT SPEAKERS NEED THE BEST SUPPORT YOU CAN GET

Atacama Duo 6 £65

“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 AWARD WINNER

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

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”

“£200 for a pair of speaker stands? When they’re this good, we don’t mind”

Speaker postitioning

Wonder-wall?

Where’s the best place to position a speaker? Some speakers sound better backed up against a wall (such as Wharfedale’s Diamond 220), while others prefer to be out in the open. Your choice of speaker may be dictated by how much space you have. 122 www.whathifi.com

Ear, ear

Common practice for standmounters is to have the tweeters at seated ear-level. Why? The higher frequency sounds from a tweeter are more directional. Having them at this height ensures they make a beeline for your ears.

Stand to attention Speaker stands keep the speaker cabinet rigid. This allows for more of the drivers’ movement to be translated into sound and not wasted through vibrations. If they’re on a carpet, make sure you have spikes to ensure stability.


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123

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128

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T H AT WA S T H E N

Haymarket Media Group, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham TW1 3SP

THAT WAS THEN EDUAL CS505-2 DELUX

FEBRUARY 1986

The sound’s the thing. In 1986, mind you, £129 was a fortune…

EDITORIAL 020 8267 5000 Editor-in-chief Andy Clough Editor Simon Lucas Digital editor Joe Cox Managing editor Jonathan Evans International technical editor Ketan Bharadia Multimedia editor Verity Burns Content editor Andy Madden First tests editor Kashfia Kabir Staff writers Andrew Murphy, Becky Roberts, Adam Smith Buyer’s Guide editor Kobina Monney Sub-editor Jon Crampin Art editor Simon Bowles Designer Kayleigh Pavelin Photographer Steve Waters Video editor Pete Brown THANKS THIS ISSUE Andy Puddifoot, Peter Spinney ADVERTISING 020 8267 5976 Account director Chloe McDowell Sales manager Liz Reid Retail manager Rob Kerr Display sales executive Joshua McGonigle Retail sales executive Jessica Sarfas Global sales manager Chris Marriott Special projects manager Julie Hassan Tech business development director Mike Walsh SUBSCRIPTIONS AND MARKETING 020 8267 5000 Marketing manager Claire Griffiths Brand executive Sarah Hunt PRODUCTION & PLANNING 020 8267 5000 Production manager Anthony Davis

The result of our budget turntable Group Test this month (p44) has left us a little dissatisfied. The likes of the winning Audio Technica AT-LP60-USB deliver a fair amount for the money, but we can’t stop thinking back to the fine affordable decks we’ve tested in the past. We’re going to look past early purist record players from the likes of Rega and Pro-ject. Those aren’t quite reflective of the kind of products in our test. What we want is something that’s got mass-market appeal and still sounds great. The answer? Dual’s terrific CS505-2. Especially in luxury deluxe guise.

and are designed to require minimal input from their owners. They are built, of course, for an audience grounded in free streaming services such as Spotify – those who just want to dip their toes into the vinyl pond. The manufacturers have decided that, for this market, performance sits below a fuss-free nature and bulging spec-sheet. Back in the old days it was more about sound quality. It is still perfectly possible to get sonically talented, affordable turntables. It’s just that these start at around £250, rather than half that. Listen to one, though, and you’ll understand what the fuss over records is really about.

Can you digit? No, you can’t

Your £129 bought a smart wooden plinth – the main upgrade on the deluxe model – a suspended subchassis to minimise external interference, and a good arm/cartridge combo. It was all nicely made, reliable and easy to use – but, importantly, it performed well too. Well enough to put the current crop in the shade? We’d have to say yes. The Dual featured a standard of engineering that similarly priced products from today simply can’t match. That’s understandable given inflation, perhaps, but there’s also a difference in attitude. Today’s contenders are much more about convenience. They have built-in phono stages

130 www.whathifi.com

OVERSEAS LICENSING 020 8267 5024 Licensing and syndication Isla Friend MANAGEMENT Commercial director Stephen McKeon Brand director Alastair Lewis Editorial director Mark Payton Managing director David Prasher

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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: help@whathifi.themagazineshop.com Tel: 0344 848 8813/+44 (0)1604 251462.

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Today’s budget decks just can’t compete with ’80s’ equivalent

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Connect with us Award winning cables, designed by music lovers in England since 1985. 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:

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