The new age of USB computer audio has rekindled the flame of the outboard D/A converter (DAC). Among this new breed of USB DACs few are as simple to implement or as versatile in use as Audiolab’s fabulous little M-DAC. It works directly with virtually all PCs and Macs without special USB drivers while its bold display shows a wealth of information about the incoming music data. An onboard volume control lets the M-DAC do the job of a preamp just as the choice of seven digital filters allows fine-tuning of its sound. And what a sound – powerful, insightful and delicate, it cuts to the heart of the music while remaining faithful to its soul. This is a very high performance product that’s perfect for both the computer audio novice and seasoned enthusiast alike.
When is a CD player more than a CD player? When it’s designed to be an outboard D/A converter complete with integral CD drive. This is Cambridge Audio’s Azur 851C, its best player to date and one that combines its most sophisticated DAC design with USB and legacy digital audio inputs. The partnering 851A amplifier is just as slick, employing the latest version of the company’s proprietary Class XD technology to comfortably exceed its 120W specification. So while the 851C DAC/player brings a quiet composure to the party, the 851A is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a muscular amp that grips the speakers and serves up tight, powerful and extended bass. In the 851C and 851A you’re getting cutting-edge technology for substantially less than high-end prices. Add the best speakers you can afford and this two-channel system will deliver a taste of hi-fi heaven.
Danish loudspeaker brand DALI is no stranger to the high-end and this latest addition to the EPICON range is appropriately ‘epic’. The statuesque EPICON 8 stands 1.26m tall and features a dedicated wood-fibre coned midrange driver sited above a novel hybrid tweeter module and augmented by two bass drivers. Key innovations include the use of a non-conductive powder material in the magnet system, called soft magnetic compound (SMC), claimed to reduce distortion over a wide dynamic range. The EPICON 8’s enclosure is formed of six layers of MDF and is finished in a choice of gloss black and real wood veneers. Its sound is equally impressive, at once bold and intimate, its broad soundstage peppered with musical detail, filling the largest of rooms with ease.
Hi-fi without cables? If this is your domestic dream then Dynaudio has the solution with its Xeo wireless audio system. If Wi-Fi is traditionally associated with lo-fi then Xeo looks to set a higher standard with its bespoke transmitter capable of streaming music, up to 16-bit/48kHz resolution, to its Xeo 3 standmount and Xeo 5 floorstanding loudspeakers. Both speakers include two 50W amplifiers for their bass and treble drivers while the partnering Xeo transmitter features analogue, USB and Toslink optical digital inputs for compatibility with a wide range of hi-fi sources. Not only does Xeo support multiple sources but it will also stream out to three independent speaker zones, spreading its lively and dynamic sound quality throughout your home.
To casual viewers the LS50 will look like a minimalist, single-driver loudspeaker but in reality it’s more sophisticated. In fact, this single driver is one of KEF’s famous two-way Uni-Q units with its tweeter mounted at the acoustic centre of the mid/woofer. This latest iteration, coloured rose gold, features a cone formed of a special magnesium/aluminium alloy and benefits from a longer ‘throw’ to improve bass performance. The cabinet is not only beautifully finished but is sturdily constructed with constrained layer damping between its walls, internal cross-brace and front baffle. As promised, the LS50 delivers a remarkably big sound with vivid imaging and a tremendous bass weight that belies its compact dimensions. Shut your eyes and you’ll believe you are listening to a far bigger loudspeaker.
Network-enabled hi-fi separates are evolving at a fiercesome pace but Pioneer’s N-50 is sufficiently ahead of the pack that it sets the standard in its class. Its 2.4in colour LCD screen squeezes in a lot of information, including a thumbnail of the album cover and details of the file type and sampling frequency. The N-50 is also a lot heavier than its slim profile suggests thanks to its multiple power supplies and reinforced chassis. But most important of all, its DLNA-compliant Ethernet connection will handle the highest resolution 24-bit/192kHz media with other connections to support legacy digital products, USB audio and external
Wi-Fi/Bluetooth adapters. Musically, it serves up a soundstage you can walk into – guitars sound slinky and cymbals positively sizzle as the N-50 weaves its digital magic.
Despite its name, the Debut is not Pro-Ject’s first turntable but one of a series that has formed the backbone of this hugely successful brand. In its latest guise, the Debut includes a one-piece chassis, available in seven gloss finishes, with a belt-driven alloy platter. The motor benefits from an improved suspension but the most distinctive feature of this deck is its new carbon-fibre tonearm, derived from Pro-Ject’s popular 9cc model. The sound of this turntable combination is as mature as the design itself, with a dynamic, foot-tapping quality reminiscent of far costlier models. Voices are also portrayed with an insightful clarity and weight. If you are curious about the vinyl revival, then Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon is the ideal place to start spinning those LPs.
Sennheiser has been at the forefront of headphone development for decades, experience reflected in the engineering of its new HD 700 model. Instantly recognisable by its elegant and very modern aesthetic, this open circumaural design incorporates a wealth of materials technology. The soft velour ear pads are supported on a silicone-damped headband while the efficiency of the internal drivers is enhanced by its ventilated magnet system. Very comfortable to wear, the HD 700 maintains Sennheiser’s tradition for a tremendously detailed performance, assisted here by its proprietary angled baffles. Moreover, this model’s sound possesses a welcome richness, its naturally warm aspect encouraging long spells of listening.
The Epson EH-TW9000W is one of the first home cinema projectors to include technology for the wireless transmission of Full HD 3D images – making long HDMI cable runs a thing of the past. The high power E-TORL lamp, combined with a 480Hz refresh rate, creates bright, smooth 3D pictures. The optical engine includes a large zoom range and horizontal/vertical lens shift, making set-up very easy, while excellent video processing and movement compensation also ensure the Epson’s performance is first rate. This is one of the best solutions that can be found on the market today – use it to build the home cinema set-up of your dreams!
This combined home theatre system provides a stylish, flexible solution that’s easily integrated into your living room, due to the fact that the Connect ID 46 offers 2,160 feature and design combinations, including different stands, colours and specifications. The TV’s picture quality is matched by the excellent audio performance of the Home Cinema Set 5.1, which includes the MediaVision 3D Blu-ray system with iPod/iPhone dock, five satellite speakers and a wireless subwoofer. Control is made simple via Loewe’s new iPad-compatible Assist Media app. This is a premium package that benefits from high-quality materials and excellent craftsmanship.
Panasonic’s DMP-BDT500 has it all. Fast and reliable when reading CD/DVD/BD discs, this multi-purpose modern player offers additional applications to connect with internet services and allows DLNA file-streaming. Generous connections include two HDMIs, making it easy to integrate with the rest of your system. Besides an advanced video processor that provides picture calibration, the DMP-BDT500 has a very special audio processor that allows you to choose between the sonic characteristics of six different vacuum tubes. Digital-to-analogue conversion is based on four 192kHz/32-bit DACs, and the Panasonic is ready to read FLAC files up to 192kHz/24-bit. LAN and Wi-Fi connections, touchpad remote control and applications for Android and iOS complete this impressive package.