Sometimes, the parameters change. “Find four CD/amp/speaker systems for £1,000” Was the original brief. So here are four such systems, all priced around two grand. That's often the way, here.
You see, the selection process is a bit different from usual, at least for a reviewer. We went shopping, with imaginary money. But we went to a couple of real bricks-and-mortar dealers (Infidelity and (Sevenoaks), both based in Kingston-upon-Thames, for sheer convenience) on a real Saturday, played real CDs through real loudspeakers and made real conclusions… just like real people. These aren't systems dreamed up by PR people, you can buy this stuff.
Total price: £1,925 Rega Apollo CD player Price: £500 More info:Rega Size: 435x 100x270mm DAC: Wolfson Key features: Top-loading CD-only player, self-optimising for each disc played Naim Nait 5i
Price: £725 More info:Naim Size: 432x70x301mm Power output: 50W Line level inputs: 4 (phono and DIN) Key feature: Tape output Rega R5 loudspeakers
Price: £700 More info:Rega Size: 218x810x342mm Weight: 12kg Drivers: 25mm tweeter, 125mm mid/bass Nominal Impedance: 6ohms Sensitivity: 89dB Key feature: Additional side firing 175mm bass driver
The Audiophile Party Animal system
Infidelity's £1,925 fun-filled separates system comprised classic Brit-fi systems in combination. The source was a top-loading Rega Apollo CD player, hooked to a Naim Nait 5i amplifier and then to a pair of Rega R5 floorstander loudspeakers.
People have been selling Rega/Naim/Rega systems consistently for the last two decades; the products may change but the ethos stays the same.
These products have the right brand names and the audiophile's dream of the absolute minimum of superfluous features (you want a headphone socket, buy a headphone amplifier… we gave you a remote, what more do you want). But these products keep being sold for good reason… this stuff sounds fantastic.
Don't expect clarity, definition, and all those niceties that hi-fi buffs place great stead by; these are not genteel products. Instead, this is the system that presents music red in tooth and claw.
You find yourself playing Led Zep at balls-out levels and Beethoven piano turns visceral and full of drama. Which is how it should be, come to think of it.
That said, the sound of the Rega/Naim/Rega system can be refined and civilised, but it's fundamentally about the passion and drama that drives people to make and listen to music. Background sounds? Forget it!
It's always a party when these three get together
Not the most tonally accurate system around
Total price: £2,197 Musical Fidelity X-RAY v8
Price: £799 More info:Musical Fidelity Size: 219x88x340mm DAC: 24-bit Delta-Sigma Key feature: External power supply
Musical Fidelity X-T100
Price: £899 More info:Musical Fidelity Size: 219x88x360mm Power output: 50W Line level inputs: 3 + MM/MC phono stage Key feature: PSX-R upgradable
Price: £499 More info:B&W Size: 165x280x276mm Weight: 6.7kg Drivers: 25mm aluminium dome tweeter, 130mm Kevlar mid/bass Nominal impedance: 8ohms Sensitivity: 84dB Key feature: EISA Award-winning standmount
The style system
A trio of electronics and small, elegant standmount speakers form Sevenoaks' cool-looking £2,197 system. The Musical Fidelity X-RAY v8 CD player and X-T100 valve amp can't quite make their minds up whether they are separates or a single entity, as they share the same TRIPLE-X power supply (supplied with the amp).
You can buy a separate PSU and a new beefy one will be available soon, but you can't use the CD player on its own without either PSU or amp. But as they work well together, this isn't much of a limitation.
The speakers are B&W's elegant little CM1 bookshelves, beautifully finished with metal driver surrounds highlighting the aluminium dome tweeter and yellow Kevlar bass cone. Build quality on all four components is exemplary.
The look is crisp and controlled, and so is the sound. Although small, the speakers deliver surprisingly deep bass and an open midrange that makes speech very easy to understand.
Ultimately, the loudspeakers hold the electronics back somewhat, as they don't deliver the free-sounding high frequencies or the fast-paced bass of the Monitor Audio speakers (also tried on this system).
The electronics sound smoother and more inviting than any here and if you want elegance with good sound, this is the top-dollar choice.
Elegant looks and electronics capable of making an inviting, powerful sound Minus points
Expensive. Loudspeaker more style than substance
Total price: £1,875 Arcam DiVA CD192
Price: £875 More info:Arcam Size: 430x85x290mm DAC: Analog Devices 24-bit Key feature: Upsampling MultiDAC module
Arcam DiVA A70
Price: £500 More info:Arcam Size: 430x85x330mm Power output: 50W Line level inputs: 6 Key feature: Optional phono stage
Focal Chorus 806V
Price: £500 More info:Focal-JMlab Size: 222x390x293mm Weight: 8.2kg Drivers: 25mm aluminium/magnesium tweeter, 165mm polyglass mid/bass Nominal impedance: 8ohms Sensitivity: 90dB Key feature: Inverted dome tweeter
The intellectual's system
Arcam and Focal form Infidelity's second and final system. It comprises an Arcam CD192 CD player with the new-ish A70 integrated amplifier, both from Arcam's DiVA range.
These are coupled with the excellent Focal Chorus 806V standmount loudspeakers. Top of the DiVA range, the CD192 features Arcam's unique upsampling multi-DAC module, while the A70 has a clever computer-controlled architecture, cleverly disguised as a perfectly normal hi-fi amp.
The Focal 806V is the entry point to its middle range and is designed specifically for rooms smaller than 20 square metres.
Unlike the Naim and Rega system, this line-up has a very different presentation, more head than heart. Curiously, the loudspeakers take about 5-10 minutes to settle down - no idea why - but you can hear the sound expanding as you listen to the first couple of tracks.
Once that lead-in time has elapsed, this is the system that delivers the best stereo sound, the most detail, the most vocal articulation and the most tonally accurate sound of the bunch.
No, it's not as visceral and exciting as the Naim and Rega system, or as sweet sounding as the Cyrus/Monitor Audio rig, but this is the first call for those who want to hear what happened in the studio without emphasis.
Sophisticated, grown-up sound for those after hearing all that's happening on their recordings Minus points
Weirdly, loudspeakers take a few minutes to warm up from cold
Total price: £1,697 Cyrus CD6S
Price: £649 More info:Cyrus Size: 215x73x360mm DAC: 24-bit Key feature: Upgradable
Price: £599 More info:Cyrus Size: 215x73x360mm Power output: 40W Line level inputs: 6 + 2 tape output Key feature: PSX-R upgradable
Monitor Audio RS5
Price: £449 More info:Monitor Audio Size 220x800x185mm Weight: 11.7kg Drivers: 25mm gold dome tweeter, 125mm aluminium C-CAM mid/bass Nominal impedance: 6ohms Sensitivity: 90dB Key feature: Entry level floorstander
The upgrader's system
Sevenoaks basic £1,697 system offers a lot of upward mobility, but it gets the basics right from the outset. The core of the system is a pair of 'singing shoeboxes'; the Cyrus CD6S CD player and 6vs2 integrated amplifier.
These half-size products take up less room, but offer no less passion than other electronic components in the group. They are also both upgradable, up to their respective Cyrus 8 spec and then still further, with the addition of PSX-R power supplies. This all makes an already clean sound, cleaner still.
There's no upgrade path for the cute little RS5 loudspeakers, but if something's this good, who cares? The system falls neatly between the sheer analysis of the Arcam/Focal and the fun factor of the Rega/Naim/Rega system, with a pacy, tight and detailed sound that just makes you nod your head and say 'sweeeet' a lot.
The Cyrus system is not one to switch on and off regularly - the products seem to need hours to warm up after being removed from the juice - which is hardly environmentally chummy.
There is also a distinct loudness ceiling to the RS5. Headbangers need not apply, but the rest of us get some of the best sounds around.
Civilised and upgradable system that sounds like it should cost twice as much Minus points
No roof-raising loudness on offer. Amps need forever to warm up
We expected a winner - we got four. Each one very different to the rest and each one capable of delivering music with grace and charm all of its very own. Even the weakest of the quartet could easily be the strongest with subtle changes that were quickly played in demonstration. It shows that there's no one single answer in hi-fi. It also shows the absolute importance of the dealer demonstration - anyone could have put together a different system out of these parts and come up with something much less entertaining. Even if it costs a little more, those Saturday afternoon hours can pay dividends.
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Posted: 30/04/07 11:12:30 30
Interesting test, seems that the speakers held back the electronics in most cases.. I think that you missed an opportunity here to try systems out where the speaker spend is 50%+ of total outlay. Starting with a £1k speaker could have delivered an very interesting comparison - what do you think?
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