My chum Paul is on Round Ten in his never ending “Shall I, shan’t I?” quest for the perfect, sonically brilliant, future proof great value new hi-fi. Every time he starts to research the latest and greatest, and invest £15 in a variety of the latest hi-fi magazines, the world of hi-fi seems to be in flux. The result is that same old 15 year old Sanyo micro system with a skippy under-sampling CD player, a redundant cassette deck and ropey mini bookshelf speakers gets to stay.
He’s tempted to ‘invest well, invest once’ but with so many sources not only available but almost all required – streaming from his computer or smartphone, Spotify, DAB radio and the desire to still put a CD on – he’ll end up with a jumble of boxes, and a bookshelf footprint that won’t please his wife.
The big question you need to ask yourself is ‘how often do we sit down and listen to music’… as the sole thing you are doing. It’s pointless spending more than a grand (£) if you only really listen to it as background music. If the volume is rarely above 2 or 3 then I think one of the new networked mini system one-boxes is the easiest, cheapest and best solution.
On the surface they seem distinctly unglamorous – bit like a friend asking whether he should buy the Aston Martin, Porsche or Maserati and you recommend the new Ford Mondeo. I’m afraid it is the Ford because non of the super brands offer the totality of offer in a package that is really convenient and future proof. I say this as the proud owner and daily user of a 20 year old Meridian 200 multi-room system that has been lovingly fettled and upgraded so that it does actually deliver what Paul wants… although with a huge physical footprint, a mountain of wiring and a ‘today’s money’ cost of c£30k.
So what to buy?
There are a few players but it seems to me that the Onkyo CR N755 or either the Denon RCD M39DAB or Denon’s CEOL RCD-N7 are the main contenders.
The Onkyo is a great device with built in Spotify access, a great CD player, FM radio and a USB port. The big plus it that you can stream radio from the built in internet radio as well as access music from any DLNA device in the house. The review from Pocket Lint below seems pretty fair.
The first Denon option is a really well rounded player and putting a few big playlists onto a couple of large capacity USB sticks gives the option for a really good background or party player. (Alternately a £60 1TB Hard Drive plugged into the USB port at the back can handle the whole of all but the largest music library). The review below is by one of the more active audio retailers and is again a fair piece.
The second Denon option is their iBook styled CEOL player (picture at the top). It doesn’t have DAB radio but you could access that via a smartphone. I agree with the review from Gramophone Magazine below, buy just the main unit and upgrade to a good pair of bookshelf speakers.http://www.gramophone.co.uk/editorial/denon-ceol-a-strange-name-but-a-perfectly-sensible-streaming-solution
If I went with any of these I’d be tempted to buy the new iPad Mini and use that to both store a whole pile of favourite music and also as the visual remote control for the whole unit. Denon actually have a neat App for the iPad already built so you can see all the album artwork as you select and play music.
With a decent set of speakers, some high quality speaker cable but without the iPad remote you could have the whole thing for under £1000.
Clearly you could spend more, much more and very much more but I can’t see the point if all you really need is a sonically capable multi-source music system. I think both the Onyko and the Denon RCD M39 are also about as future proof as you can get in 2013.