Bowers & Wilkins’ Panorama 2 clearly carries the brand’s audio heritage – this is a high-end soundbar with a remarkably smooth, detailed and nuanced performance that constantly impresses. Within its curved and well-built chassis are nine newly-designed drivers powered by Class D amplifiers, arranged to ensure a wide dispersion so that no one misses out on the action. Connectivity on the Panorama 2 is extensive, with a trio of HDMI inputs and an ARC-compatible HDMI output making it easy to hookup a Blu-ray player, console, set-top box and your flatscreen TV. With its Panorama 2, Bowers & Wilkins has delivered the perfect mix of style, convenience and audio quality.
Designed for home theatre enthusiasts, the DLA-X55R offers an unprecedented picture quality for its price point. Light output and native contrast are highly impressive, while the colour reproduction is nuanced and natural. Sharpness is another strength, with JVC’s second-generation ‘e-Shift2’ detail enhancement technology displaying Full HD content with an astonishing level of detail that comes close to an Ultra HD sensation. Installation of the DLA-X55R is helped by its comprehensive setup features, including motorised horizontal and vertical lens shift, a 2x zoom and Lens Memory function, plus extensive calibration options and a range of excellent preset viewing modes.
KEF’s revamped ‘egg’ 5.1 package is ideal for a discreet home theatre system. Its secret weapon is the brand’s proprietary Uni-Q driver, which combines a 115mm woofer and 19mm aluminium dome tweeter in a coaxial design to create a precise sound image from its five small satellite speakers. Adding realistic, deep bass is the partnering 250W active subwoofer with its long-throw 200mm driver and whose design merges seamlessly with the surround enclosures. The E305 is neatly conceived, easy to install, simple to use and provides an impressively broad but still accurate performance with film soundtracks. It’s also a natural performer with music material, making it a great all-round solution.
A 7.1-channel processor/preamp with state-of-the art digital processing and features, the Krell Foundation is aimed at home theatre enthusiasts for whom only the very best will suffice. A total of 10 HDMI inputs and two outputs provide setup flexibility, including instantaneous source switching, while the brand’s proprietary ARES room EQ system tailors sound performance to the listening environment. Owners of compatible amplifiers can make use of its balanced outputs. As expected from a high-end product, design and build quality is faultless, and the slim form factor means it can be accommodated easily. In action the Foundation delivers multichannel audio with amazing clarity and precision and passes video signals with unerring accuracy.
Loewe always strives to provide home entertainment systems that mix premium design and ease of use with a quality audio-visual experience, and this combination is no different. The new Individual 55 Slim Frame TV offers Active 3D playback, an integrated PVR and Smart TV features, plus personalised style options to tailor it for any living room. The 3D Orchestra 5.1 IS, meanwhile, uses an array of wireless speakers with omnidirectional dispersion, ensuring an immersive surround sound performance, with a tight bass delivery from the dedicated 200W subwoofer. With no need for an external processor, as decoding is handled by the Loewe TV, this is an appealing fuss-free solution.
OPPO’s BDP-103EU is a state-of-the-art Blu-ray player, matching a luxurious, heavyweight build quality with an astonishing range of features. In addition to two HDMI outputs, external sources can take advantage of the player’s high-grade processing via its twin HDMI inputs, while USB, Ethernet and Wi-Fi capability make it easy to play back your own media files. As a universal deck, the OPPO will happily spin Super Audio CDs and DVD-Audio discs as well as Blu-rays – its performance, aided by extensive user adjustments, is sublime. 4K upscaling and HDMI passthrough mean it can be combined with the latest high-end displays at the heart of a home cinema.
The Philips HTL9100 is no ordinary soundbar. If needed, the detachable, battery-powered side speakers can be put anywhere in the room where they will receive rear-channel sound wirelessly, providing true ‘Surround On Demand’ via the onboard Dolby and DTS 5.1 decoders. With the subwoofer also working wirelessly, and connectivity including Bluetooth for music streaming, two HDMI inputs and an ARC-compatible output, installation is fast and foolproof. Philips’ Smart Equalization sensor will also adjust the soundbar’s sound depending on whether it is mounted to a wall or flat on a stand. An energetic, detailed audio performance and slim, unobtrusive design completes this forward-thinking, innovative product. Hook it up to your TV and enjoy…
Sony’s flagship receiver sports a heavyweight design and build but brings finesse to its multichannel performance ensuring that movie soundtracks and music alike are delivered with vivid detail and bags of energy. The 9.2-channel STR-DA5800ES is also feature-packed, offering nine HDMI inputs and three outputs, an asynchronous USB input, built-in network switching and, uniquely for an AVR, video-on-demand courtesy of the Sony Entertainment Network. Powerful on-board audio processing enables centre channel Lift Up and Virtual Height functionality to ease installation, while media playback includes support for 192kHz/24-bit FLAC and WAV files. Add in the gorgeous and intuitive graphic user interface and effective auto-calibration regime and the result is an inspired new addition to Sony’s home cinema line-up.
If you want to enjoy the sound of your hi-fi system privately, but without being tethered to a headphone socket, then AKG’s K935 wireless ’phone is the perfect solution. The base unit, which can be wall-mounted, includes hidden magnets that hold the headphone in place while they charge, allowing for up to eight hours of remote listening enjoyment over a high quality 2.4GHz wireless connection. RCA and 3.5mm analogue inputs are fitted along with a sensitivity switch to accommodate a wide variety of music sources. Not only does the K935 develop a very detailed, spacious and sympathetic sound, but its soft and compliant velvet ear pads and light weight ensure the headphone is equally comfortable to wear.
Every seasoned enthusiast knows that different interconnect and loudspeaker cables will impact on the sound of a hi-fi system, but the same is also true of digital cables. The rise in popularity of USB DACs has been met by a similar cloudburst of proprietary USB cables, and AudioQuest is right at the forefront of this new technology. Carbon USB, named after the woven carbon fibre-like jacket that clothes this fashionable cable, lies midway through its five-strong range. It employs superior silver-plated solid copper conductors and adheres exactly to the USB specification, offering excellent compatibility and helping to deliver a pristine sound with all good-quality USB DACs. If you want to hear your system at its best, then trade-up from your ‘giveaway’ USB cable.
With its new Kubik Free series of miniature two-way loudspeakers, Dali is putting the fun back into functionality. The self-powered Kubik Free loudspeaker connects wirelessly to any Bluetooth music streaming device, its onboard amplifiers delivering a deliciously sweet sound from Dali’s proprietary wood-fibre bass/mid driver and soft-dome tweeter. Of course, the Kubik Free also includes wired USB and optical inputs – perfect for partnering with your TV – and stereo connections for all legacy audio devices. A multi-pin connection allows your Kubik Free to power a second, passive version of the speaker called the Kubik Free Xtra while a subwoofer output is included to service a full 2.1 channel audio system. Finally, with a choice of wrap-around grille colours, the Kubik will blend seamlessly into any modern living space.
There’s a lot more audio technology packed into LG’s compact, wireless audio system than first meets the eye. A full 2.1 channel loudspeaker system with two sub-bass drivers is incorporated into the body of the CM3430, purposefully driven via a 40W Class D amplifier. Its super slim casework comes in a variety of colours and plays host to a slot-loading CD player, FM radio and a USB port that supports playback of uncompressed music files. Depending on territory, DAB radio versions are also available. For even greater flexibility, you can stream music via Bluetooth or AirPlay. Whatever your choice of source, the versatile CM3430 punches well above its weight with a surprisingly grand and engaging sound that belies its discreet appearance.
If networked audio systems have typically been designed for convenience rather than ultimate sound quality then this new digital audio player from Marantz marks a turning point in the evolution of home hi-fi. In addition to offering USB Type A and B sockets – for iDevices, memory sticks and connection to a PC or Mac – the NA-11S1 includes an Ethernet port for access to a NAS drive or to become part of your wired home network. The new DSD-over-USB protocol is also supported. Naturally, AirPlay and DLNA connectivity is included, so you can wirelessly stream music from your computer or mobile device. The player is immaculately finished while its subtle, smooth and intricately detailed sound is always musical, setting an enviable standard. Without doubt, the NA-11S1 is a supreme streamer.
Computers are ideal for storing your favourite music but they are not designed with hi-fi in mind. Meridian’s portable Explorer DAC bridges this gap by accessing audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz via the computer’s USB output and converting them into glorious stereo music. The Explorer is powered directly from the USB hub, so there’s no need for batteries or external supplies, includes three LEDs that provide an indication of audio file sample rate and offers two 3.5mm outputs. One combines a fixed-level analogue with an optical digital output, while the other is purpose-designed to drive headphones via its integral analogue volume control. The very natural and transparent sound of the Explorer is as sophisticated as its all-aluminium case is stylish, bringing a taste of the high life to your notebook.
Proving that the ultimate in wireless connectivity need not mean unnecessary complexity, Panasonic’s SC-PMX9 manages to offer full compatibility with your DLNA home network while supporting music media streamed via Bluetooth or AirPlay. Panasonic’s Music Streaming app, available for Android and iOS devices, puts you in full control of your listening pleasure but as the SC-PMX9 is also a comprehensive hi-fi system you also have the choice of playback via CD, digital radio and USB stick in addition to the fully integrated iPod/iPhone dock. The partnering three-way loudspeakers deliver a wonderfully rich sound thanks, in part, to the proprietary Class D amplifier tucked inside the SC-PMX9 that leverages off Panasonic’s proven MASH noise-shaping technology. Whether your preference is for wireless or wired sound sources, Panasonic’s SC-PMX9 is a thoroughly modern solution.
Stereo separates are not only becoming more popular again, they are also becoming much more flexible and Pioneer’s PD-50 disc player and partnering A-70 amplifier show us how. The PD-50 spins CD and audiophile SACD discs while also including a front-mounted USB port for playing music off a memory stick. Around the back, there are digital inputs to boost the performance of external digital devices. Meanwhile, the A-70 not only boasts a full 90W power output but its Class D amplification ensures this is achieved as efficiently as possible with a robust and rhythmic sound. The fact that Pioneer’s A-70 also includes conventional digital and asynchronous USB audio connections confirms its status as an impressive hi-fi hub.
Inspired by its high-end Aida loudspeaker, the Venere 2.5 is the more affordable of two floorstanding models in Sonus faber’s new range. The sweeping aesthetic of the Venere 2.5 with its tilted apex topped in glass and double curve of its cabinet walls combines beauty with great strength, controlling any unwanted vibrations from its two bass/mid units. Treble is handled by a 29mm fabric-dome tweeter, helping to deliver music that’s vivid and colourful but also refined and undemanding over long listening sessions. The Venere 2.5 is available in stunning piano black or white finishes in addition to polished wood veneers. This is a loudspeaker that succeeds in pleasing both the eye and the ear.
EISA’s High-End Audio award can only be earned by products that combine the very best in hi-fi engineering with superlative sound quality and this year, T+A’s astonishing HV (High Voltage) series is the stand-out winner. Built into massive, but immaculately finished aluminium chassis, the pair consists of the MP 3000 HV digital media player and PA 3000 HV integrated amplifier. The player has a high-end DAC at its core, includes a plethora of digital inputs, a built-in CD drive, UPnP network client for computer-sourced music streaming, internet radio functionality and an FM tuner for good measure. The partnering amplifier is rated at a substantial 300W but is no less sophisticated as the entire system can be controlled via T+A’s splendid two-way FD100 handset, complete with display. The HV series is the embodiment of high-end style and substance!