Let’s look at the positives: 2020 is practically over. And with the winter nights now upon us, even for those who can go out, staying in actually feels like the nicer option. Essentially, there’s no better time to curl up with something warm to drink, some good music and your new copy of What Hi-Fi? – because learning about the best hi-fi separates and systems to emerge from a challenging year is time well invested.
Only got two minutes? In a nutshell, the January issue of What Hi-Fi? – on sale on newsstands today – features four top stereo systems that, while not comprised solely of Award-winners, do a superb job of playing music.
There's also a battle between the newest next-gen consoles – it's the Xbox Series X vs Sony PS5 and we'll give you the ultimate winner. There's our round-up of the eight best sets of headphones we've tested for running, and an extensive First Test section. But if you have more than two minutes, stay with us! There's so much more...
Systems of Love
Bach or Bowie? Bassoon or balalaika? The good news is we don’t have to choose. Thanks to our ever-evolving tech, we can enjoy practically any musical genre – even Ultravox tracks from 1993 (see our sub-header) – simply by flicking a few cleverly optimised switches.
Take the four stereo systems in this six-page systems special: each one includes a turntable, to bring the joys of the long-established analogue medium, and combines it with a digital source, in the form of either a streamer or a CD player.
Our amplification and speaker selections have been chosen to best complement those sources, and we’ve devised each system to suit a budget – from relatively affordable to really rather high-end – then assembled its components to work in close harmony with each other.
In short, we’ve done all the hard work for you. And we're quite proud of this quartet of systems, even though we say so ourselves.
House of games
After the longest-lasting generation of consoles in the modern gaming era, the new next-gen updates are finally here – the Xbox Series X and Sony PlayStation 5 – and we're about to let them slog it out in the ring over 12 long championship rounds.
You might expect 8K to be the big news here, but 8K resolution is not supported by either console. Games are still in 4K, and the case against buying a new console only strengthens with the knowledge that you don’t actually need to buy one in order to play all but two of the latest games.
Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Both of these next-gen consoles take gaming to new heights – one more convincingly than the other. Which got the resounding TKO? You'll have to grab a copy of the January issue of What Hi-Fi? to find out.
First Floor Power
Well done if you noted the Swedish afrobeat-meets-70s-pop indie band reference – bringing your attention to such acts is one of life's joys. Also of paramount importance, of course, is bringing you reviews of notable products arriving in the hi-fi or home cinema sector. Our First Tests section is where you'll find them, alongside star-ratings and a conclusion on how good the kit is for the money.
This month, expect no fewer than seven such reviews, including Google's newest video streaming dongle, Apple's latest diminutive smart speaker, a talented set of Dali standmounters, an Elipson Chroma turntable, a premium Sony native 4K projector and a pair of Grado true wireless headphones.
Born to run
If your New Year’s resolutions include working off the effects of lockdown, you’ll need a pair of sports headphones to accompany you in your chosen exercise regime. (If not, don't sweat it – just getting through lockdown is enough).
Think of sports-centric headphones and true wireless in-ears with charging cases probably spring to mind, but sports headphones can also take the form of in-ear buds connected by a wire or neckband. When choosing a pair, sonic performance is of course a priority, but perhaps even more important is how well they fit, alongside a good IP rating. If they fall out mid-run (and into a puddle) you won't be happy, no matter how great they sound.
That's why we've rounded up eight examples of the best sports headphones, ranging in price from £55 to £249. Fingers crossed that we can all get out and about more in 2021, but whether you’re hitting the gym or pounding the streets, there should be a pair of sports headphones here to help you enjoy your freedom once more.
Built to survive
This month, our Insider feature focuses on McIntosh and Sonus Faber – names that need no further fanfare for most hi-fi enthusiasts. Both firms boast long, rich heritages that have become synonymous with high-end audio excellence – McIntosh for its extensive range of discerning electronics, Sonus Faber for its premium line of Italian-crafted speakers.
Despite being oceans apart, the common ground is their ownership by US holding company McIntosh Group (formerly Fine Sounds Group), which also owns Sumiko and Wadia Digital.
We spoke (virtually) to McIntosh Labs’ Charlie Randall and Sonus Faber’s Jeff Poggi about the importance of brand identity, the pandemic’s impact on the market, and the future of hi-fi.
“There has been a fundamental reset in consumer behaviour that will outlast the pandemic,” Poggi told us. To find out what else he said, read the latest issue...
This month, our Temptations section is another win for McIntosh fans, as it features a review of the McIntosh MA900 integrated amplifier (£12,995) as well as the SME Model 6 turntable and crystal cable set (£6295). Yes, they are eye-wateringly expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop reading about them.
On top of all this, you'll also get our Insider Top Five (a quintet of hi-fi or home cinema products that need to be on your radar this month), our pick of the 20 best albums of 2020, and don’t forget our definitive guide to the best home entertainment your money can buy, our regularly updated Buyer's Guide.
Remember, don't click 'buy' on a hi-fi or home cinema product in the January sales – no matter how good the discount – unless you've consulted What Hi-Fi? first.