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 this Christmas, here are 10 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.
SME's Synergy record playing package is made up of the new 12 turntable with a dedicated arm that’s essentially the highly regarded SME IV (but internally rewired with leads from Crystal Cables) and an Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti cartridge. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the inclusion of a built-in phono stage from Swiss high-end hi-fi royalty, Nagra.
The result is a brilliant sounding, fuss-free record player that can stand comparison with the very best mix and match alternatives, but can be set-up by ease. The Synergy's sound is packed with authority and confidence. It always sounds in control but has enough in the way of dynamic expression and rhythmic drive to work superbly over a wide range of music.
JBL L100 Classic
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 30-cm 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.
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.
Chord Hugo TT2
While Chord’s stellar reputation was originally founded on some excellent amplifiers, it’s fair to say that it's the company’s superlative digital-to-analogue converters that have hogged the limelight for the last decade.
The Hugo TT is a brilliant example of the art of combining terrific build with some rather extrovert styling touches. It’s the sound quality that really matters to us of course, and the TT manages to trump everything we’ve heard near this price by quite a significant margin. If you’re after a top-class DAC/headphone amp combination, this is a brilliant buy.
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.
Linn LP12 Klimax turntable
Linn’s LP12 has long been considered something of a hi-fi legend. This deck has dominated the premium turntable market (in the UK at least) for most of its life, thanks in no small part to Linn’s continual development of it. Every part has been improved, and even the oldest samples – now well past 40 years in age – can be brought up to current spec.
Despite the advanced age of the basic design the LP12 can still stand toe-to-toe with newer rivals. And in the ultimate Klimax, it guise makes a strong claim to be one of the finest record players around.
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 convince when listen listening to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture but also have the ability to put on their dancing shoes when we pit on some Chic.