Some combinations are more difficult to get wrong than others – so you can think of this system as the sonic equivalent of wearing all black. As long as it’s properly fitted, you’re going to look dead suave.
System-building is more than just a case of lining up three long-standing Award-winners in a row – though admittedly the Q Acoustics 3020s only lost their title by a guinea-pig’s whisker at the end of last year. Each member of this trio is so undemanding, such an all-rounder, it would be quite implausible for them to end up not complementing each other.
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CD player - Marantz CD6006 £400
Stereo amplifier - Onkyo A-9010 £200
Stereo speakers - Q Acoustics 3020 £190
Total price - £790
Make the most of it
Marantz is a name that has become synonymous with the mastery of affordable CD players and, while £350 is by no means loose change, we couldn’t give you a solid reason not to buy the CD6006 unless you’re willing to spend quite a lot more.
As well as sporting standard stereo analogue outputs, the CD6006 will let you bypass its internal DAC and use it purely as a transport via digital optical or coaxial connections. But we warn you not to be tempted without having first made the most of the DAC inside.
It’s a high-quality, high-resolution (24-bit/192kHz) Cirrus Logic CS4398 affair, capable of dealing with better-than-CD quality digital files via the USB input on the fascia. If you’ve any hi-res files on a USB stick then the CD6006 effectively becomes a hi-res audio player.
So the price seems to look like more and more of a bargain and, fear not, there is a budget amplifier more-than capable of making the most of the Marantz’s talents.
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The Onkyo A-9010 (£200) has a decent array of line-level inputs, a moving-magnet phono stage and a headphone output, while forgoing an integrated DAC has allowed Onkyo to focus its energy on making the A-9010 a class-leader in every other respect.
It is that graceful midfielder in the black boots, so easily undervalued, who keeps everything simple but drives the team on with effortless, match-winning elegance.
And up front, if you will, the Q Acoustics 3020s (£190), which for so long have been our go-to entry-level speakers. Entirely unfussy, they’re loyally willing to feed on scraps, but properly nourished they boast an exceptional combination of refinement, insight and dynamics.
Despite our attempts to resist undue self-congratulation, upon inserting a CD of R.E.M.’s 1991 MTV Unplugged set into the Marantz we're satisfied that, yes, we really do know how to put together a great system.
From the opening few seconds of Half A World Away we get a tremendous sense of space and an impressive amount of detail that immediately differentiates both between guitars and mandolin, and the varying textures of the organ.
We’ve said before the CD6006 favours easy listening over studious analysis, which is by no means a slight, but Onkyo A-9010 has the vigour to spotlight every bit of energy the Marantz has to offer, so never does 'laid-back' become 'lifeless'.
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Perhaps most impressive, though, is how well each of these talented components complements the others dynamically.
There's no shirking of responsibility, the system tracking rises and falls to deliver an expressive, engaging performance that is by no means a given in entry-level set-ups. There are few voices more wrought with emotion than Michael Stipe’s, and this trio is more than capable of revealing it.
For under a grand, we don’t think there is a more widely talented system to play your CDs and, let’s not forget, hi-res files.
Try out some different components – perhaps you’ll favour something with a more specific bent than these all-rounders – but you’d be foolhardy not to at least give these a go.
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