Time was, an all-in-one music system was regarded as a convenient but sonically rather compromised option for listening to your music at home.
And while it is true that we at What Hi-Fi? are still advocates of using specialist products for each link in a system, those compromises of times gone by have lessened to such a degree that we have absolutely no hesitation in recommending an all-in- one system now; and of course they can be an excellent cost option over separate components.
All of which is confirmed in our round-up of some outstanding systems that look like speakers. They range in price from £529 to £6000, and are all terrific value for money in their own way. You would have to go some to better their performance with separate components, and there can be no doubting that their looks and space-saving dimensions simply cannot be matched by multi-unit rivals.
And, as usual, we also have reviews of the very latest hi-fi and AV products in our First Tests section.
Hi-fi hiding in plain sight
Not that long ago, anyone who wanted quality hi-fi sound in their home was obliged to research and invest in a number of separate products, and add various cables and supports to make the whole thing work.
All-in-one systems are nothing new, but until recently tended to come with a large helping of sonic mediocrity attached. Of late, though, the quality of such systems has soared – along with the number and type available. When it comes to ’proper’ hi-fi, it’s time to take the all-in-one solution seriously.
Essentially, these systems carry everything you need to listen to your music in just a pair of speaker cabinets. They are all powered speakers, which means they carry their own amplification, along with all the other electrical circuitry needed to produce quality sound. Most provide their own source too, in the form of access to streaming services; all you have to do is plug them in, and off you go. And ample connectivity means you can always add your own sources as well.
Here, we have brought together seven of our favourite speaker systems, covering standmounted and floorstanding options, from the likes of KEF, Elac, JBL and Triangle.
If you prioritise convenience as well as quality sound, you won't want to miss this month's What Hi-Fi?
Budget network streamers are ideal for anyone looking to improve their set-up’s streaming capabilities without risking bankruptcy in the process. As the name suggests, a network streamer can take music from a NAS unit on your network, a streaming service or internet radio as well taking sound from a computer, phone or tablet wirelessly. They are ideal for those who want access to a huge amount of music without fuss.
Even budget network streamers have a host of wireless playing options at their disposal, not to mention physical connectivity round the back and support for a wide variety of file formats from DSD to hi-res music platforms such as Tidal. If you want to be the best, then merely okay sound, an ethernet port and a couple of basic buttons aren’t going to cut it anymore.
And so this month we have pulled together a trio of top-tier budget music streamers – the Audiolab 7000N, Bluesound Node (2021) and Cambridge Audio MXN10 – to compare and contrast each model’s strengths and shortcomings so that you will know exactly where you stand when searching for a cost-effective solution to your streaming needs.
Awesome mixes to test your hi-fi
We've created our own 'Awesome Playlist' picked from Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack highlights, all of which will test your hi-fi in different ways. This eclectic bunch of tracks (that actually would fit nicely on a C60 cassette) will test the abilities and talents of your different components and overall set-up.
Elsewhere we explain the differences in Class A, Class A/B and Class D amplification, and present a 'That Was Then...' feature on the Musical Fidelity A1, a distinctively styled, sublime sounding (and somewhat hot-running) amplifier that was released way back in 1985.
First with reviews
As always in our First Tests section, you'll find our famously in-depth, impartial and expert reviews of the very latest AV and hi-fi kit.
Sony's WF-1000XM4 earbuds have been one of our go-to premium pairs of wireless earbuds for the last couple of years, and now at last we have a sequel: the WF-1000XM5, reviewed this issue. They are still premium, quality buds for a relatively reasonable outlay, but as our review team found out, Sony have opted for a different sonic character this time. Is that good, or bad? Find out in November's What Hi-Fi?
Elsewhere we have reviews of the Hisense 65U8KQ and Sharp 55FN2KA. Both are very affordably priced 4K TVs, and we give them our full attention this month to find out if they're worth that reasonable outlay in terms of picture quality.
We also run the rule over Sennheiser's Ambeo Mini soundbar, the BenQ W4000i home cinema projector, the latest iteration of Musical Fidelity's A1 amp (see elsewhere this issue for a nostalgic look back at the 1985 original), T+A Solitaire T over-ear headphones and Atacama's latest premium hi-fi rack, the Elite ECO 24.
Find out what our review team thought of all these products in November's What Hi-Fi?
Our Temptations section of the magazine is where we feature the latest high-end products, that carry a price tag as ambitious as their claims to sonic supremacy.
This month it's the turn of the Wharfedale Dovedale standmounters and dCS Lina DAC. The former are the legendary British hi-fi speaker manufacturer's latest top end loudspeakers. They exude olde-worlde charm in terms of aesthetics, but prove to be hugely capable, enjoyable and versatile performers.
The dCS Lina, meanwhile, may call itself a DAC, but is essentially a network streamer. Our review team found that it "ticks every box when it comes to the mechanics of hi-fi, such as a focused and beautifully layered soundstage”. It doesn't come cheap, mind you, so you may need to raid that piggy bank.
Expensive, yes, but you know you want them!
Finally, don't forget to check out our Buyer’s Guide, featuring a definitive list of all the best home entertainment kit you can buy – including winners of 2022's What Hi-Fi? Awards. If you’re looking to purchase anything from a pair of wireless headphones to a home cinema speaker system, this section will tell you where to spend your money wisely.
Whatever you do, don't miss the November 2023 issue of What Hi-Fi?. Grab a copy today, or simply download it onto your tablet or smartphone. Enjoy!