It's that time of year when tearful (or joyous) parents send their now-adult kids out into the world, perhaps to a place of higher learning (or full-tilt hedonism). Now, if you're a good, hi-fi loving parent, by the time your offspring fly the nest for Uni you'll have already taught them a) the value of great music, and b) the importance of listening to those tunes in the best way possible.
This doesn't need to be, for young ears, by way of a fully fledged high-end hi-fi system – unless you're very rich and they're very lucky. It could be listening through a good quality wireless speaker, or a decent pair of headphones, even just quality earbuds. But as they head off to college, there's no harm in equipping them with the appropriate kit to encourage a life of hi-fi appreciation, setting them upon a journey – much like our own has been – toward quality listening pleasure.
My son Jack is departing for Uni this week and, despite some misgivings by his mum and sister (primarily to do with physical space and volume levels), I was insistent that he should be set up in his new student home with the best hi-fi gear I can afford to give him (and trust me, that's not a lot and this hasn't cost a lot).
Having recently taken possession of a beautiful new Audio-Technica AT-LP5x turntable, I have passed on to him my old cheap'n'cheerful Marantz deck (now runs a little fast, to be honest), and similarly vintage and now also-supplanted Dali Spektor standmounters. To complete his set-up, for his 18th birthday, I bought him a new amplifier – a very reasonably priced and 4-star Yamaha R-S202D, handily with Bluetooth connectivity for streaming his tunes from his phone through proper speakers. And he's happy as happy can be with this.
Now this, I understand, might be overkill in a small student flat, and for sure the lack of space in his IKEA-style bijou living space will necessitate him stacking the separates and probably having the speakers closer together than is ideal. Something like a JBL Flip 5, which is what we sent his big sister to college with last year, is in many ways a more convenient and space efficient way to get decent sound in a small space. There is also the small matter of potentially paper-thin walls between your kid and their flatmates, who might not appreciate Queens Of The Stone Age at full stereo-speaker volume at 3am. Of course, conversely, they could find the party coming to them.
But there are several reasons I feel it is important to send my boy off with a 'proper' system of separates. The first is that he loves vinyl. He has been collecting vinyl releases for a couple of years; he loves the format, the tactility, the album art and the collectibility, even though he was rarely able to play those records having never owned a deck of his own until now. Artists such as Gorillaz, with their special limited edition releases, are among the reasons vinyl is still so attractive to the younger market – Song Machine even included a cassette version, which has been stuck to Jack's wall ever since he bought it (and there's little chance he will actually ever get to play that ancient artifact).
Studying for their vinyls
To echo what I've previously said about the joy of physical music ownership, such things are thrilling to own, and he's now hugely excited to take his nascent record collection to show off to his new Uni friends, who, one would hope, will appreciate how cool a good record collection can be.
It's worth noting here that, while 'suitcase' turntables with built-in speakers might look cool and retro, these won't in most cases (pardon the pun) give you more than the bare minimum of listenability, because regardless of build quality, those tiny built-in speakers can only do so much (while tonearms and cartridges won't exactly be the best you'll come across, to the point where their tracking force can be so heavy it would eventually damage the – really not very cheap these days – vinyl records!). Anyone remember the Crosley Cruiser, which our two-star review warned should be "kept away from your record collection"? Something like Lenco's LS-410 fared better in our testing rooms, but was not without issues – although still, for my first point at least, might be enough to at least let your offspring get the use out of their records.
University of life
However, for me, sending my son off with a proper hi-fi feels like the handing over of a kind of mantle of hi-fi appreciation to a new generation. Jack is even taking his LPs to college in my old record box, the same one that transported my vinyl to Uni 30 years ago. Back then, I had a Philips midi-system (remember those?), that I had also received upon my 18th birthday. This had a turntable, double cassette deck and amp combined into one boxy unit plus small-ish bookshelf speakers. Back then, of course, there weren't many decent portable options, and what else could I have taken, barring a Walkman and an FM clock radio? But still, it meant I could play my music at a decent volume and decent level of quality (not to mention make mix tapes!). It also meant that my record collection was a cool talking point with friends, girlfriends and drunk house guests.
But finally, and perhaps most importantly, if we owe anything to future generations, we should be encouraging our young people to be discerning and curious, as record collectors and hi-fi enthusiasts invariably are. As we all know, since you're reading What Hi-Fi?, understanding the worth of good kit is paramount to hearing music as close as possible to the artist's intent, so why mug your ears with anything less than you can manage to play it through?
It's horses for university courses, though. There is, as I said at the top of this piece, absolutely nothing wrong with a good compact all-in-one system – something like the Revo SuperConnect Stereo, just to name one recent product, with its Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio built in might best suit your kids' listening needs, particularly with space being at a premium. Check out our reviews of our most highly rated do-it-all systems and the best Bluetooth speakers to see what's out there. But, if you can knock together a stack of even entry-level separates (that could, actually, cost less than an all-in-one system), you'll have done your bit to encourage a life-long interest in the workings of individual stereo components that allows for a constant and satisfying upgrade path, as money and student debt repayment allow.
Get in there early, I say – your kids will thank you for it. If nothing else, it could also ensure they never waste money on 'fashion' headphones, cheap 'party' speakers or knock-off AirPods again.