HRT (High Resolution Technologies) is best known for its range of compact digital-to-analogue converters.
These have tended to be class-leading products and have won more than a few Awards down the years. It’s against this backdrop that the company has released the Stage system.
It’s made up of a pair of speakers – standing just 38cm cm high – and a rather striking, though some would say oddly shaped, main unit which HRT calls (rather grandly) the Control Centre.
All parts of the system are cased with injection-moulded plastic, giving flexibility as far as shape is concerned and, if done with care, resulting in impressive structural integrity too. The speakers are a fine example of this.
They feel immensely solid and well damped – their combination of 28mm dome tweeter and trio of 7cm mid/bass drivers looks purposeful too. We’re less taken with the Control Centre: it has a hollow feel that is at odds with the price.
Some of the test team weren’t taken with the finish either, because it feels a bit cheap. Still, this control unit can be hidden away so that may not be an issue for some.
Take a look inside the main unit and you’ll find it has built in digital-to-analogue circuitry and a 70-watt per channel Class A/B amplifier.
The use of this type of amplifier circuit (rather than the Class D alternative normally found) is done on performance grounds. HRT simply feels that Class A/B circuitry sounds better, and is happy to use it even if it means a decently sized heat sink is required to make it work.
The amplifier section is optimised for use with the Stage speakers. This is more important than it sounds.
Usually, amplifier designers don’t know which speakers their product is going to be used with, so have to design the circuitry to suit a wide range of designs.
Here, it’s specifically intended for just one design which (if done properly) should result in a better sound.
We’d like more inputs, especially considering the USB input takes power from the source to run the control circuitry.
This means you will need to run a computer into the USB even if you’re playing a CD player through the stereo inputs. The Control Centre is designed to be modular.
Its input board can be switched as and when additional modules become available. We hope more input options will be included then.
There’s talk of wireless connectivity at some point but nothing concrete as yet.
Listen to the Stage, though, and it’s obvious all that emphasis on performance has paid off. The system’s proportions might suggest desktop use but we’re stunned at how well it performs when treated like a proper hi-fi.
We use our MacBook (loaded with Pure Music playback software) and are astonished with what we hear from such an unassuming package. It’s a wonderfully spacious image.
Those slim speakers aren’t fussy as regards toe-in, but take a little time to get things optimised – and then you will be able to enjoy an expansive sound stage that’s layered with precision.
There’s lovely integration between the drive units, and the kind of top-to-bottom consistency that very few alternatives at this price manage.
These are small speakers so really deep bass isn’t on the menu, yet the system never sounds undernourished or lacking.
We’re impressed with the level of resolution too – as good as any similarly priced separates combination we can think of.
Listen to something demanding such as Orff’s Carmina Burana or a more pared back recording such as Bruce Springsteen’s Terry’s Song and the Stage just shines.
It has wonderful dynamic subtlety and the kind of delicacy with low-level details that puts us in mind of true high-end gear. The level of insight is terrific, but there’s also a hint of politeness in the system’s presentation that stops it short of pulling poor recordings apart.
It stays listenable, and that’s important if your music collection isn’t made up of immaculate recordings.
The Stage can be criticised on its limited inputs and low-rent feel. Yet treat it like specialist hi-fi kit and it rewards richly.