Here we have the thoroughly modern hi-fi system for the newish millennium; no old-school separates here.
This system is our suggestion for the perfect 'Spacesaver'. With just three boxes to worry about, this would suit any size room while still providing high quality music from source to speaker.
Total: £2548 ($3549, AU$4738)
Streaming amplifier: Cambridge Audio Evo 75
This box of streaming tricks from Cambridge will give you great performance and a wonderful music-listening experience in a really well made package. And, of course, it goes beautifully with Dali’s Oberon 5 speakers – which are as fuss-free a pair of floorstanders as we could hope for at this price. And, as floorstanders, of course, there’s no need for stands – so the only extra you need to budget for is speaker cable. (But please do allow for some decent cable; this pairing deserves it.)
The Evo 75 – the ‘75’ in its name denotes its wattage-per-channel output – is one half of Cambridge’s two-strong Evo system offering, which includes a 150W-per-channel model called – you guessed it – Evo 150.
Today’s streamers are expected to be as lavishly furnished as a Victorian parlour, and the Evo 75 is determined not to be out-featured at this level. Cambridge’s StreamMagic platform is an inviting gateway into streaming from Tidal, Qobuz and, via DLNA, any network-stored music drives.
Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect (complete with MQA support for streaming hi-res Tidal Masters) are on board to allow subscribers to play and control those services’ libraries from the native apps, while Google Chromecast offers native app playback for the likes of Deezer, YouTube Music, Apple Music and TuneIn Radio, too.
The numerous ways in which you can stream music from your phone or tablet these days may seem daunting, but whichever route you decide to go down, the Cambridge won’t discriminate.
There is also the opportunity to add external sources to the set-up, whether that’s a TV, CD player (bear in mind Cambridge is planning an add-on CD transport to the Evo soon) or storage drive, via the Evo 75’s RCA, USB, coaxial, optical and HDMI ARC sockets. Vinyl-loving Evo 75 owners will have to connect a deck with a phono stage to the RCA input, or buy a separate phono stage – there isn’t one on board, sadly.
Of course, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so Cambridge has found a way to appeal to more than one taste and living room decor. The black anodised aluminium chassis – somewhere between half and full-width, measuring 31.7cm wide and about as deep – features magnetically attached side panels that can be swapped out at the owner’s discretion. The included panels are Walnut, and consist of an attractively corrugated material made primarily from a recycled paper called Richlite.
The colourful 6.8in LCD panel prioritises album artwork and, providing you are close to the box, it’s easy to read the accompanying playback info (which includes file size and type) and menu settings. The dial comprises two parts: an outer wheel for navigating menus – which has a mechanical click, making it easy for you to be exact with your selections – and a more fluid inner volume wheel that’s smooth and responsive.
The remote is a substantial tool – not the tiny credit-card style we sometimes see with modern components – with a finger ridge on the rear that shows Cambridge values the small things. Its buttons mirror those on the unit, adding ones for display brightness adjustment and presets.
Cambridge’s efforts to tick boxes and create a satisfying user experience haven’t gone to waste. The Evo 75 is the sonic success its spec sheet deserves. It’s powered by third-party Hypex NCore Class D amplifiers, as opposed to the architecture Cambridge develops for its standalone amps, but, no doubt due to exhaustive tuning, it sounds no less ‘Cambridge’ for it – insightful, open and musical. The clarity and breadth of the Evo’s soundstage are instantly apparent. The Cambridge’s midrange is particularly articulate, with a lovely fluidity and warmth. There’s no shortage of room or attentiveness preventing instruments from expressing themselves dynamically – key in keeping you interested and involved in a piece – and no limitations in scale on the Evo’s part get in its way.
The Evo has a solid sense of rhythm, and is punctual and dynamic in its handling of a track. Detail resolution is generous and spread evenly across the frequency range, too.
There are now many music streamers that sound great, look superb or are pleasant to use, but not many manage to nail all three as convincingly as the Evo 75. In the premium one-box streaming system market, nothing before has come this close to Naim’s Uniti range in offering the complete package.
Speakers: Dali Oberon 5
We have married this excellent system with the Dali Oberon 5 for a number of reasons – chief among them being (of course) that they are superb-sounding speakers for the price. They are also, however, rather compact two-way towers, standing just 83cm high and just over 16cm wide. What’s more, they are impressively fuss-free about positioning, so should fit in, both aesthetically and practically, to most modern living rooms.
When it comes to that positioning, the Oberon 5 like to be a little away from the back wall and firing straight ahead, rather than angled towards the listening position. The tweeter’s dispersion characteristics mean that the speakers will still produce a focused and layered soundstage when positioned this way. But even if that isn’t possible, they will deliver almost all the performance you should expect of Award winners.
And they really are terrific performers. They’re responsive and musical – but, most of all, they are fun to listen to.
We start with Radiohead’s In Rainbows and the Dalis sound right at home among the complex rhythms and dense production. But they bring out the emotion too, highlighting the haunting nature of Videotape or the uplifting change of gear in 15 Step’s instrumental break, where the shift in bassline character changes the feel of the track.
The Oberon 5 speakers have the dynamic subtlety, rhythmic precision and sheer transparency to make the most of such things and pull the listener into the musical experience.
They’re detailed too, revealing low-level instrumental strands with ease, but also managing to arrange that information in a composed and organised way. The leading edges of notes are well defined, but not highlighted unnaturally; the sound simply flows in an organic and convincing manner.
As a neat, wonderful-sounding streaming system, this duo is almost impossible to beat at this sort of money.
It has pretty much always been the accepted case that you can get far better sound from a carefully chosen system of individual specialist components than by buying an all-in-one ‘solution’.
While that very often still holds true, it’s not without exception – especially if you don’t want loads of units taking up more space than you deem necessary. This system, with the Cambridge Audio Evo 75 taking the place of both amplifier and streamer, will give you the performance of a great separates system in a package that is more modern and minimalist. And that suits us.
These are the best floorstanding speakers for every budget
Upgrade to a wireless system: best music streamers