It’s not easy to buy presents for someone who has everything, but we’ve put together a list of some of the finest hi-fi and home cinema products currently available to help the cause. If you have an audiophile in your life to treat, or think you've been so good this year you deserve to treat yourself extra well this Christmas, here are 10 of the best ways to do it.
The prices are as far from budget as they get, but the products on our list are the stuff of dreams. If you're thinking of spending this kind of money, it pays to visit a dealer to benefit from their experience and knowledge before you buy.
Fyne Audio F1-8 speakers
Fyne Audio may be a young company, having formed in 2017, but the people that run it have been in the speaker business for decades, and it shows. The F1-8 standmounters are the entry point into the company's high-end F1 range, and incorporate all of the brand's technical innovations.
The most obvious one is the IsoFlare driver array that puts the 25mm magnesium dome compression tweeter at the centre of the 20cm multi-fibre mid/bass driver. This helps integration and time alignment between the units.
You can add the elaborate BassTrax downward firing port and diffuser arrangement, which spreads the bass pressure more evenly into the room and is claimed to make the speakers less fussy about placement. There's also the notched drive unit surround on the mid/bass driver that aims to help minimise cone resonances. The list goes on but it's the contribution these things make to the F1-8's sound quality that matter most to us.
These standmounters turn in a gloriously dynamic and lively performance. They aren't the most refined speakers you'll find at this price, but we haven't heard a rival that sounds so musically cohesive and expressive.
JBL L100 Classic speakers
Retro is in, so it’s a perfect time for JBL to trawl its considerable back catalogue for some long-revered gems. The L100 is arguably the company’s most iconic speaker, and this new version remains surprisingly faithful, visually at least, to the 1970s original. The engineers have gone as far as to retain the original’s white 30cm bass cone and distinctive off-centre driver placements for the tweeter and midrange, while the level adjustment controls for both these higher frequency drivers are retained too.
Yet, when it comes to sound quality, the Classics are good enough to compete with the best at the price. They have a different sonic flavour to most modern rivals, preferring to concentrate on the big picture. They deliver huge dynamic swings and bass of enough depth and quality to leave the competition reeling. These JBLs aren’t the last word in insight, neutrality or precision, but when you listen to a pair in full flow that doesn’t seem to matter.
Shure KSE1200 earbuds
Almost two grand for in-ears? It’s a lot of money in a market sector where perceived value is so low, but give these electrostatic in-ears a listen and you’ll be convinced. These are among the most agile and insightful headphones we’ve ever heard. They sound so direct and agile that even class leading over-ears like the Focal Utopias sound a little ponderous in comparison. There really is a sense that these in-ears are revealing every bit of information on the recording.
With their sound so astonishingly revealing, source and recording quality matters. If either of these is sub-standard you’ll know about it. Also, because they’re electrostatic, you’ll need to use the dedicated amp, and that’s yet another thing you have to carry with you. If you’re prepared to do that, these are a hugely capable buy.
Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier
It’s possible to dismiss Luxman’s L-509X as a retro throwback built to appease those who yearn for the past, but that would be a mistake. This immaculately built integrated amplifier is about as well equipped as they come, and combines that with class-leading sound.
Its presentation is detailed, agile and expressive, and is able to deliver the full gamut of music from Bruce Springsteen to Stravinsky with passion and confidence.
B&O Beolab 50 speakers
Bang & Olufsen knows how to make a style statement. Its Beolab 50s look like a long lost prop from a '70s sci-fi movie, but they have enough in the way of technology and engineering integrity to impress us too. They have the ability to astonish listeners with their huge volume levels, seismic bass performance and impressive dynamic reach. We can’t think of an alternative that can play as loudly and sound so composed with it.
Inside each of those intriguingly designed cabinets are seven drive units powered by a total of 2.1kW of amplification alongside enough processing power to give NASA a complex. If you want to make a statement with your hi-fi we can’t think of a better alternative.
dCS Bartók streaming DAC
It's fair to say that dCS is rightly considered one of the very best when it comes to digital audio products. The Bartók streaming DAC is one of the company's more affordable offerings but that doesn't stop it from being a world class product.
The heart of every dCS digital-to-analogue converter is a proprietary conversion circuit called the Ring DAC. This circuit has been refined over the decades and continues to set class standards when it comes to technical and sonic performance.
Have a listen to the Bartók through its line outputs or the optional high quality headphone connection, and its hard not to be impressed by the insight and transparency on offer. Add exceptional build quality into the equation and you have a product that anyone would be pleased to have in their system.
Burmester 100 Phono preamplifier
Is the Burmester 100 Phono the best phono stage in the world? It’s in with a shout, and that makes it as good a place to start as any. The 100 Phono is a superbly built and wonderfully flexible unit that can accommodate moving coil and moving magnet cartridges, and is able to accept signals from two turntables.
The circuit is modular in nature and its design follows Burmester’s usual exacting standards with a generous power supply arrangement and carefully optimised signal paths. In the end it’s the sound that hooks us. The presentation is as refined and detailed as we’ve ever heard.
JVC DLA-Z1 4K projector
This rather inconveniently large projector from JVC produces the finest images we’ve seen. Nothing – no monster OLED or cutting edge LCD panel – comes close to recreating the scale and sheer cinematic experience of this unit.
With quality 4K source material such as Planet Earth II on 4K Blu-ray, we’re blown-away by the richness and punch of the colours, as well as the pin-sharp detail this JVC is capable of. The DLA-Z1 costs a lot of money, but in our view the results are worth it, and then some.
Vertere DG-1/Magneto turntable
Vertere's newest deck is also its most affordable. The DG-1 is available without a cartridge, but we tested it with the partnering Magneto moving magnet. This only adds around £100 to the base price and is a fine option to get you started.
The DG-1 is a breeze to set-up, and we're listening to records in short order. It's a great sounding deck, delivering all genres of music with verve and drama. We haven't come across an alternative that sounds so insightful and entertaining.
Focal Stellia headphones
If you have to listen to music in a noisy environment or you don’t want to bother the people around you as you blast the latest Ariana Grande single, only a closed-back pair of headphones will do. And if money is no object, we'd point you towards Focal's Stellia.
The single 40mm Beryllium dome driver per earcup delivers a wonderfully transparent and cohesive sound that combines deep, powerful bass with sweet highs superbly. These headphones have the refinement and tonal accuracy to truly convince when listening to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture but also the ability to put on their dancing shoes when we play some Chic.