If you yearn for a higher-end hi-fi system that can pretty much do it all, we may just have saved you a lot of leg work and research. The superb set-up we have here covers the digital bases of the compact disc and music streaming and marries it with a very fine turntable to tackle everything the modern hi-fi buff could wish for.
But there’s more. This system, thanks to the brilliant Arcam amplifier, also allows you to listen to your music wirelessly over Bluetooth; enter the wonderfully musical new Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e wireless headphones. For most occasions, though, when you want to share your music with your family, friends and the world, PMC’s remarkable Prodigy 5 floorstanders are an astonishing bargain even at their almost two grand price.
- CD player + network streamer: Technics SL-G700M2 (£2899 / $3499)
- Turntable: Technics SL-1500C (£1099 / $1300)
- Integrated amplifier: Arcam A15 (£1099 / $999)
- Stereo speakers: PMC Prodigy 5 (£1995 / $2510
- Wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e (£379 / $399)
- Total price: £7471 / $8707
Music streamer + CD player: Technics SL-G700M2
The Technics SL-G700M2 is a strangely effective piece of kit. It’s a CD-playing streamer – on the face of it, a perfectly reasonable ambition for a source component in the 2020s. But, other than the fact that the two digital sources live in the same metal box, little effort has been made to integrate them into one harmonious piece.
Still, were you to take its twin abilities and put them in two separate boxes, you would be very happy with your separates system – the performance is extremely competitive for the price; at least a four if not a five-star rating across the board. Which, take it from us, is no easy feat. This is an extremely impressive compromise in a one-box solution.
The SL-G700M2 has a controlled and clear delivery that works well regardless of what we play. It is a detailed and insightful presentation, and manages to organise the musical information in a cohesive and entertaining way. We notice the same traits when we swap to the streaming module. This player gives balanced results regardless of the source. It is bold and authoritative when it needs to be, but can change down the gears effortlessly when asked to render something delicate. The insight on offer and the understated yet still musically engaging nature of this unit are impressive indeed.
Turntable: Technics SL-1500C
The turntable we have chosen to share source duties with the Technics SL-G700M2 is its Award-winning stablemate, the SL-1500C. This solid, well-engineered deck is a firm favourite of ours and it has a terrific phono stage built-in. It is quite obviously one of the best decks we have heard at this kind of price with a clean, precise and skilful presentation.
We are impressed by the SL-1500C’s sonic agility, the way it resolves plenty of detail and manages to deliver all that information in a cohesive and musical whole. There are few rivals at around the £1000 mark that do it better.
Integrated amplifier: Arcam A15
There is a new kid on the block performing the power duties in this setup. When we heard Arcam’s hugely impressive A5 integrated amplifier, we were a bit worried about the step-up A15. How, we wondered, could it do justice to the price hike over its stunning entry-level brother? We needn’t have worried. The step-up amp in Arcam’s range is more than a mere buff, pumped-up version of the A5.
The A15 is more authoritative and offers a more spacious sound than its little brother, but they also have distinct sonic characters. The A5 offers more richness in tone and a more full-bodied approach to music. This A15, on the other hand, is more obviously open, more revealing – and capable, in the final analysis, of more than the A5 could hope to reveal. This is a wonderfully commanding and controlled performer, excelling in terms of grip and composure, and delivering way more in terms of scale and authority when compared with its little brother.
Stereo speakers: PMC Prodigy 5
The Arcam amplifier is more than capable of being able to take a starring role in a system with loudspeakers costing over the £2000 mark; which is where the PMC Prodigy 5 come in. At just about that price break, these are not cheap options in anyone’s eyes – but they certainly bring a whole lot of PMC’s wonderful premium qualities to a slightly more affordable market than many of the British company’s previous offerings. What you get with these floorstanders is the essence of the hugely admired PMC sound condensed into the least expensive package they could make. So the finish on the boxes, while perfectly acceptable, is perhaps not quite as “two grand” as some of the many rivals there are out there. When it comes to the important stuff, however – how they sound – at this price, they are pretty much impossible to beat.
As we say in our review of the Prodigy 5: “It’s clear from the outset that PMC has hit the sweetest of sweet spots with the Prodigy range, balancing subtle details and musical flourishes with a perceptibly heightened sense of presence, poise and confidence.” They have the remarkable gift of being able to provide the best of all musical worlds without a hint of sonic sacrifice and are truly comprehensive performers.
What’s more, they are a genuinely fun listen, immensely diverting across almost all genres.
And they manage all that without being particularly fussy about placement. You will get the best out of them by positioning the PMCs around 40-50cm away from the wall to avoid some overly dominant bass, but they are far from demanding about that. Angle the Prodigy 5 in slightly towards your listening position and you will receive an expansive yet well-focused soundstage.
Our review conclusion puts it best: “While pennies may have been pinched externally, every ounce of sonic performance has been squeezed from this expertly engineered pair of floorstanders. This is just about as good as we have heard a pair of speakers sound at this price.”
Wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e
The final piece of this wonderful system is a pair of headphones, for those times when you simply want to be cocooned away in your own world – or you can’t risk the wrath of fellow housemates perhaps. As mentioned above, the Arcam amp has the neat trick of two-way Bluetooth, so you can both stream to it from a smartphone and receive a signal from it on a pair of headphones. That’s a very valuable asset for many households.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e are the most competitive wireless headphones to come from the south-coast speaker specialists for a long while. In our review of these smart-looking over-ears, we spend a long time waxing lyrical about their build quality, features and appearance (all of which need to be really top-notch at this sort of price, of course).
All that is all well and good, but it’s completely pointless if the headphones don’t sound as good as they look and feel. This time, of course, B&W has well and truly hit the nail on the head. We have found a number of previous B&W headphones capable but not quite as musical as or enough to unseat the class-leading Sony rivals, for instance. The Px7 S2e are the first in a long while with a character that is likeable rather than something merely to be admired. With excellent insight and a more compelling balance over their forebears, not to mention a fine sense of style, the Px7 S2e are a wonderfully complete package.
Which is, by chance, a rather neat summation of this stunning hi-fi system as a whole.
If your music collection spans a wide variety of formats – vinyl, digital downloads, streaming services, CDs – this combination of products will ensure you can play it all. It's a versatile system that means you'll never have to choose or stick to a specific format – and why should you? The beauty of today's hi-fi landscape means you can listen to it all, in various ways, whenever and however you want. And if you want to listen to your extensive music library through headphones, well you can do that too – in style and in splendid sound quality, too.
Prefer a CD-only system? This modern CD system offers a simple but winning combination
Check out our guide to the best CD players for all budgets
And our guide to the best music streamers for all budgets