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Take your CDs and vinyl for a spin with this superb hi-fi system

Take your discs and vinyl for a spin with this superb hi-fi system
(Image credit: Future)

We know music streaming services are all the rage, but there's nothing quite like sliding a record out of its sleeve or peeling a CD out of its case to get the juices flowing.

This is why we've decided to build you a good old-fashioned turntable and CD player set-up that will really make the most of your collections. It's a real thriller and will transport you to a better place with the stunning sound it produces.

The system

Turntable: Rega Planar 6 / Exact MM (£1259 / $1875 / AU$2399)
Stereo amplifier: Naim Nait XS3 (£2499 / $2999 / AU$5250)
CD player: Cyrus CDi (£1195 / $1899 / AU$2299)
Speakers:  Triangle Borea BR08 (£899 / $1399 / AU$1900)

Total: £5852 / $8172 / AU$11,848

Turntable: Regar Planar 6 / Exact MM

Regar Planar 6 / Exact MM

(Image credit: Future)

We kick things off with a five-time Award-winning turntable that doesn’t seem to feel the need to go for immediacy to grab your attention. Boldness isn’t at the forefront with the Rega Planar 6. Instead, its party-piece is its unnerving ability to juggle balance, subtlety and timing in the most understated way. It produces a frankly astonishing refined and mature sound.

We usually feature the Planar 6 with the rather cultured Ania moving coil cartridge, but here we’ve decided to swap that out for the more affordable, but still hugely capable Exact moving magnet for system matching purposes.

Spinning Alice by Tom Waits we’re struck by how every element is given equal billing – the instruments aren’t overshadowed by Waits’ voice, nor do the deep bass notes overpower the piano. It’s a bewitching balancing act. The muted trumpet’s presentation in the song is light and nimble and, in a way only the very best hi-fi can do, it sounds convincing. There’s a palpable sense of depth, solidity and texture to the bittersweet, meandering tune.

The Planar 6 comes with a separate power supply unit – in this case a Neo PSU. It also lets you change speed electronically. The Neo power supply is hand-tuned to match the deck’s 24V motor to ensure that it spins as smoothly as possible with the minimum of vibration.

The Planar 6 has little in the way of isolation, bar the three aluminium-trimmed rubber feet, so it’s essential the deck is placed on a sturdy, level support to minimise any vibrations travelling to the turntable. We would also position it away from the speakers and other electronics to reduce any hum and interference. Make the effort; it’s well worth it. 

That requirement of a necessary level of care would have had to be highlighted for system-matching, too, had we not already done that for you. The higher price and the improved sound it represents means the Planar 6 demands a better class of partnering equipment. That’s partly because the Exact MM cartridge needs a high-quality phono stage, stereo amplifier and speakers to do it (and the deck) justice. Such as those we suggest here. 

Stereo amplifier: Naim Nait XS3

Naim Nait XS3

(Image credit: Future)

The Naim Nait XS3 is, on the face of it, an unusual choice for this system, as it is comfortably the most expensive piece of kit here. But there aren’t that many amps at this sort of price for us to recommend, and in terms of character this amplifier works really well with the sources, so we think the extra spend is well worth it.

The commitment to getting things right is obvious when we listen to the product. We liked the Nait XS right off the bat when we heard the first iteration of the amplifier, and there’s nothing we hear in this third-generation model that changes our mind. Indeed, this Naim is at the cutting edge of performance at this price.

It’s pretty common to find that the phono stages built in to amplifiers aren’t particularly good, and tend to be included as a box-ticking exercise with little regard for getting the best performance. The XS3’s moving magnet-only circuit resoundingly bucks that trend with a detailed and punchy performance that brims with energy and interest. It’s relatively quiet too.

The Nait sounds energetic and entertaining. It takes the multitude of musical strands in Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and combines them to deliver a musical and emotionally absorbing performance. Detail resolution is good, but it’s the amplifier’s ability to assemble all that information into a cohesive whole that really impresses. There’s a generous dose of dynamics, the Naim tracking the slow-build of the music well. The result is composed too, with a good degree of refinement when required. The Nait XS3 is a fit-and-forget product in the best sense. It slots into this system and does exactly what we want it to: deliver the music with emotional impact intact. 

CD player: Cyrus CDi

Cyrus CDi

(Image credit: Future)

Talking of which, as far as playing your compact disc collection in this system, the Cyrus CDi still sets the benchmark at this sort of price. After a very short listen to it, we remain convinced of the scale of Cyrus’s achievement here. We play Hans Zimmer’s Dream Is Collapsing from the Inception soundtrack, and right away the CDi displays the uniform, articulate and intuitive presentation that we would expect of a more expensive player. Offering buckets of detail, the finer flurries of quieter instruments surface, while the more intense parts of the score soar to a dramatic climax. Each layer of the composition is precisely unpeeled, and each instrument passes through the mix with coherent flow and tact.

But the rhythmic talent here is what really raises our eyebrows. Pace and momentum is exercised with articulation and vibrancy. We are entertained by the Cyrus’s dynamic agility and neutral balance in a way that’s rare at this price.

Speakers: Triangle Borea BR08

Triangle Borea BR08

(Image credit: Future)

The final part of this stunning system of Award winners is the Triangle speakers. 

There’s no shortage of talented rivals at this level, with something of quality available from pretty much every serious manufacturer out there. Yet having spent some time in the company of the Borea BR08, we feel they offer something special. They take everything we liked about the smaller BR03 speakers in our turntable-based hi-fi system but add more power and drive. And, of course, they work really well with everything else we have matched them with here.

Their 102cm-tall cabinets look a little basic from the outside, with flat parallel sides and a lack of adornment, but they are solid, well made and neatly finished. They come in four finishes – black ash, white, walnut or light oak – so you’ve got a decent choice to match your room’s look. 

There has been some invention in the way the drive units are mounted, with a piece of high-density EVA foam holding the back of the driver firmly against the internal brace for extra stability, but beyond that, there’s little else unusual.

It’s clear that a large chunk of the engineering budget has gone on the drive unit array. The BR08 are a three-way design with two 16cm fibreglass-coned bass units and a 25mm silk-dome tweeter, aided by a front-firing reflex port to augment the low frequency output.

Note that these speakers need plenty of room to breathe. Triangle’s website suggests they work best in rooms between 20-40m squared in size, and the manual recommends placing them at least 40cm from a rear wall and more than 50cm from the sides. Such is the bass output that we end up with them around 90cm into our test room, positioned well away from the sides and slightly angled towards the listener.

Get them properly placed and the Borea BR08 deliver a thrill ride with appropriate material. We play Nirvana’s Nevermind and they sound right at home, punching hard and combining high levels of detail with an enviable ability to tie it all together to produce a cohesive and musical whole. Those twin bass drivers dig deep but, pleasingly, remain agile and articulate too.

We can’t think of a better alternative when it comes to rhythmic drive either. These towers charge at full throttle, communicating the energy and momentum of the music brilliantly. These are speakers that prefer to be played loudly. Push up the volume and they come alive with a vigour that makes most rivals seem sedate in comparison. They’re still enjoyable at low settings, mind you, but lack a little pep, relatively speaking.

Overall these Triangles are exceptional, certainly good enough to challenge the very best at this price. The synergy they gain with the other parts of the system is what earns them their place here.

Verdict

This system is a hi-fi purist's dream, featuring some of the finest components you can get at this price point. The Rega Planar 6's ability to juggle balance, subtlety and timing in the most understated way sits perfectly within this system, alongside a CD player with dynamic agility and neutral balance that we find thoroughly entertaining.

The Triangle speakers we've partnered here are good enough to challenge the very best at this price, and the synergy they gain with the other parts of the system makes them the perfect choice.

While our pick of amplifier is priced way above any of the other components, for its energetic and entertaining character the Naim Nait XS3 works really well with the sources – so we think the extra spend is well worth it.

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Jonathan Evans
Jonathan Evans

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for around 15 years. He has been a journalist for more than a quarter of a century now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.