It’s the start of the month, which means one thing – a fresh instalment of What Hi-Fi?’s Pick of the Month column.
This entry into our monthly column is a big one, with our relentless test team having finished testing for this year’s What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023. With the Best Buys all now live, this week’s column includes everything from Sony’s latest flagship OLED, to Arcam’s latest trio of separates.
Every product on this list scored a perfect five stars after being reviewed by our team of product experts in our dedicated listening and viewing rooms, so you know it’s the best of the best.
Without further delay, here are the What Hi-Fi? team’s top picks for October.
Rega Naia/Aphelion 2
Tested at £12,499 / $16,995 / AU$24,999 the Rega Naia definitely isn’t cheap, but it’s an exceptionally capable turntable that will delight any hi-fi fan with cash to spare.
It delivered exceptional results in our listening rooms when paired with suitably high-end equipment – in our case a Burmester 088/911 MkII pre/power combination driving either ATC’s SCM 50 or Wilson Benesch’s A.C.T. 3Zero floorstanders.
We were amazed at its clarity and detail, with our testers going so far as to conclude:
“It is clearly one of the best high-end record players available at this level and a must-listen for anyone interested in knowing just how good vinyl can sound.”
Read our Rega Naia/Aphelion 2 review
The Sony A95L is the Japanese tech giant’s flagship QD-OLED – and, based on our extensive testing, one of the best TVs currently available.
Featuring a second-generation QD-OLED screen, the A95L delivered exceptional picture quality across all our tests. Highlights include best-in-class contrast and motion handling, that matched if not beat all the competing sets we ran it against, including the Panasonic MZ200.
Our review's conclusion says it all:
“Be in no doubt; the Sony A95L is a stunning TV. Not only is it capable of going astonishingly bright and producing incredibly vibrant colours, but it also uses those abilities to recreate movies and TV shows more accurately than the TVs with which it is competing.”
Read our Sony A95L review
Sony Xperia 5 V
Beside Apple, Sony is one of the few phone makers that seems to take audio and picture quality seriously. That was once again demonstrated when we got its latest Sony Xperia 5 V in for testing.
The mid-range Android phone delivers a wonderfully sharp and detailed image when streaming movies. We are also pleasantly surprised by its natural and rich sound, which makes it an easy recommendation for any phone buyer on a budget, and led our reviewers to conclude:
“Sony nails the cinematic experience on a phone once again, something it’s getting very good at. It’s hard to pick faults in its picture, and the smaller screen and lower price tag will most likely be a draw for many who don’t want or need everything the flagship Xperia 1 V offers.”
Read our Sony Xperia 5 V review
Many people might wince at the idea of paying £2499 / $3799 for a CD player. But if you are serious about music and want the best performance possible for your collection, we thoroughly recommend checking out the TEAC VRDS-701.
The player delivers detailed sound with a composed and controlled presentation. This plus its terrific build quality and wealth of digital inputs make it an easy recommendation and led our testers to conclude:
“If you still have a large collection of CDs and really want to hear exactly what is stored on them, we can’t think of a better way to do it at this price level than this TEAC. It is superbly made and a real pleasure to use.”
Read our TEAC VRDS-701 review
Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000
Astell & Kern is one of the biggest names in portable audio and based on our experience putting its latest A&ultima SP3000 through its paces, we can confirm there’s good reason for that.
Though it’s a little heavy and a bit too chunky to sensibly sit in even moderately skinny jeans, its sonic performance is amazing. Across a variety of genres, the player delivers an impressively detailed and authoritative presentation that really does justice to the source material. This led our testers to conclude:
“The SP3000 sounds superb and is packed with useful features. It is good enough to be used as the main source in a premium home system, which makes that price just a bit more palatable. To sum up, the SP3000 is the best portable music player we have heard – and the best of anything rarely comes cheaply.”
Read our Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
Bose is one of the first names most buyers think of when talking about active noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds. And its latest QuietComfort Ultra earbuds show why.
The wireless earbuds not only deliver reliable active noise-cancelling performance – more than powerful enough to block out background office noise and the hustle and bustle of the morning commute – they also sound great.
Our testers were particularly impressed with how much punchier they are and how much more accurately they handle bass compared with past QuietComforts we have tested. This led them to conclude:
“History repeats itself with Bose’s new flagship wireless earbuds – they nail comfort, noise-cancelling and sound quality.”
LG C3 (OLED48C3)
On the hunt for an OLED TV that won’t completely dominate your living room? Then check out the LG OLED48C3.
The 48-inch OLED is a fantastic-value set that delivers an incredibly crisp and balanced picture, and features superb gaming specification that make it an ideal partner for a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S.
The only downside is that, like its larger siblings which we tested earlier this year, it isn’t the best performer sonically, with speakers that offer a distinctly dull sound.
Even so, its specs and picture quality make it our current recommended OLED at this size and led our reviewers to conclude:
“It’s not much of a step forward but it didn’t need to be – the C3 is the best 48-inch TV you can buy.”
Read our LG C3 (OLED48C3) review
Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED QL50F601
If you don’t have the money for an OLED and regularly use Amazon Prime Video for your streaming needs, the Omni QLED QL50F601 is a great TV.
We think the Omni QLED is one of the best budget TVs money can buy right now. It offers surprisingly balanced and consistent picture quality. That picture, plus its intuitive interface and next-generation gaming-ready specs make it an easy recommendation for any buyer on a budget. And it led our reviewers to conclude:
“The standard of budget TVs is lower now than it has been in years, but that’s not to take away from the Omni QLED’s performance, which is markedly more assured, considered and authentically cinematic than expected at this level, now or in the past.”
The A5 is the most affordable integrated stereo amplifier option in Arcam’s newly launched line of separates. And it offers fantastic bang for your buck.
As well as being surprisingly unfussy with what it's matched with, the amp delivers an Impressively insightful, articulate, and entertaining presentation. All of which led our reviewers to conclude:
“This is a superbly rounded performer that simply gets on with the job of playing music without intruding on the experience. Partner it with suitably capable sources and speakers, and it will invariably deliver musical and enjoyable results.”
Read our Arcam A5 review
The A15 is the A5’s big brother, with the main difference being that it outputs at 80 watts per channel, rather than 50 watts, into 8 ohms.
It’s not as forgiving when it comes to system matching as the A5. But putting it through its paces in our listening rooms, it delivered excellent results paired with our reference system – which includes a Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer, Technics SL-1000R/Vertere Sabre record player and ATC SCM50 speakers.
Our testers were impressed with its expressive dynamics and clarity, with them going so far as to conclude:
“This is a second bullseye for Arcam. We worried a bit for the A15 once we heard how good the entry-level A5 sounded, but we needn’t have. This is a clear step better than its talented sibling, delivering a sound of greater clarity, scale and precision.”
Read our Arcam A15 review
The CD5 is the third product from Arcam to earn perfect marks from our testers in October. During our tests we were impressed how well the CD5 performed, given its mid-range price.
We ran it paired with a variety of equipment including a reference system of PMC Cor amplifier and Epos ES14N speakers, as well as affordable kit such as Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 and 607 S3, and KEF LS50 Meta speakers, and the Arcam A5, Arcam A15 and Naim Nait XS 3 amplifiers.
In each instance it delivered an engaging, punchy and muscular sound, leading our reviewers to conclude:
“There hasn’t been a seriously good, seriously capable and seriously fun CD player at this level in a very long time. The Arcam CD5 changes that: it’s a tremendously talented player that deserves an audition if you’re still holding on to your beloved CDs and want to give them a new lease of life.”
Read our Arcam CD5 review
PMC Prodigy 5
The Prodigy 5 are the latest floorstanding speakers from British hi-fi brand PMC, which has a pedigree in the premium market with products such as the stellar but eye-wateringly expensive Fact Fenestria floorstanders.
While they are cheaper than most PMC offerings, the Prodigy 5 are incredibly capable floorstanding speakers, and fantastic value for money.
Paired with our reference system of Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer alongside a Burmester 088/911 MKIII amplifier, the speakers deliver a gorgeous, refined sound and are surprisingly unfussy when it came to placement.
This led our testers to conclude:
“The Prodigy 5 speakers deftly balance natural vocals, refined bass and a snappy sense of rhythm to deliver a supremely cohesive listening experience. They are, in short, one of the best at the price.”
Read our PMC Prodigy 5 review
Chord Company ClearwayX ARAY Analogue RCA
The Chord Company ClearwayX ARAY Analogue RCA is a fantastic option for any system.
Paired with our reference system of Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition music streamer, PMC Cor amplifier and Epos ES14N speakers, the cable proves to be a clear upgrade on its predecessor in nearly every way.
As our review says:
“Chord’s existing Clearway cable was at a good standard, but this new, upgraded Chord ClearwayX ARAY Analogue RCA interconnect pushes the performance even further. It’s a notable step up from last year’s Award-winner, and a worthwhile investment if you want to upgrade your system’s overall sound quality.”
The Hisense PL1 is the first ultra short-throw projector to impress our reviewers in quite some time. So much so that it has quickly become the new benchmark for the category.
It is a fantastic option for any home cinema enthusiast, delivering wonderfully clean, punchy image quality across a variety of sources, from streaming content in Dolby Vision on Disney Plus to enjoying live sports action on Sky.
This, along with its incredibly competitive price, led our reviewers to conclude:
“Hisense has delivered big-screen cinematic thrills with TV convenience on the PL1, all while undercutting its competitors when it comes to price.”
Read our Hisense PL1 review
Bowers & Wilkins 606 & 607 S3 speaker package
If you have read our reviews of the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 and 607 S3, you will know we are big fans of the speakers. So it makes sense that we are also fans of them as a home cinema speaker package.
The B&W 606 & 607 S3 speaker package are fantastic performers, delivering wonderfully insightful surround sound; they are an ideal upgrade for any home cinema setup.
As our reviewers say in the review's conclusion:
“Truthfully, we had a sneaking suspicion that this package could be excellent based on our prior experience with the 606 S3 and 607 S3 stereo pairs. However, we are still taken aback by how good this package sounds as a whole. Clear, detailed, rich and dynamic – this speaker system ticks all of our boxes.”
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