Which is the Best Music System?
Passions can be as strong as opinions among the hi-fi enthusiast community. There is no universal standard to measure one individual preference against another; we all have different expectations from our music technology. If you’re into dub reggae, for example, you’ll have different requirements from a classical music lover. If you have a modest living room, the equipment you’ll need won’t be the same as what works in some vast cathedral of audio-leisure.
Much depends on the type of music we listen to, the storage system we use and the environment in which we’ll be listening. However, what unites all enthusiasts is their dedication to the quest for the very best possible technology to deliver the sound that’s right for them.
Separates or Integrated?
Maybe you’re willing to put in the work involved in assembling separates, but if you’re looking instead for a solution in one package, an integrated hi-fi system will be the answer. You need to consider carefully the different incarnations of the concept because there are a number of configuration options and dozens of brands across a vast range of prices.
Home music systems come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Generally speaking, they will include an AM/FM tuner as well as a DAB function, a CD player, an amplifier and speakers. In addition to playing standard CDs, they may also support MP3 and other compressed audio formats like FLAC and WAV via disc, memory card or streaming facility. Older units may also include a cassette player, and this may become a more common feature now that music on cassette is becoming attractive to collectors.
The Wireless Revolution
Modern music systems often incorporate Bluetooth capability, enabling connection to wireless speakers or providing speaker functions for mobile devices. Docking stations for iPods, iPhones and iPads are also common, although this feature is in decline now that Apple’s decision to discontinue its iPod range and the development in Bluetooth technology has changed the landscape significantly.
Wireless technology has had a huge impact on the market, and wireless hi-fi systems free from corded connections give you complete flexibility in where and how to position your speakers. Similarly, a Bluetooth music system offers great versatility and makes it possible to include your television in the setup.
It’s important to bear in mind that wireless options can have their limitations. First, wireless speakers need their own dedicated power supply, and the transmission range can be restrictive. Make sure the system you choose has sufficient range and power to function in your environment. Sonos is one of the market leaders in wireless systems, with superb products like the Sonos 5, the TV-friendly Soundbase and an option specially designed for outdoor use, the battery-powered Sonos Move. Beware of bandwidth limitations that may place a cap on the number of Bluetooth devices you can connect.
A traditional all-in-one music system provides every component you need in one box, or possibly two if you choose to add speakers. It’s a great option for the more modest budget and where space is limited. As always, you get what you pay for, and a top-of-the-range all-in-one compares favorably with separates. However, the emphasis is on convenience as well as value, so there’s not much room for customization or individual choice.
For even greater convenience and compactness, the mini hi-fi system is a good option. Again, it takes away the element of personalization, but you can still buy an integrated piece of equipment that will give you great performance in a small, unobtrusive package.
Vinyl Rises Again
Now that vinyl is making a strong comeback with both new releases and collectables, you may consider a turntable to be an important investment. All-in-one systems moved away from integrated turntables many years ago when the CD became king, but it is simple to add one to your music system, whether it is integrated or an assemblage of separates. Many audiophiles insist that the depth and accuracy of analogue have never been bettered by digital technology, and now the sophistication of modern turntables is helping them to prove their point. From entry-level models like the Regar Planar all the way up to the Linn Majik, there’s something for everyone.
The question of which is best doesn’t have just one answer; it’s what is best for you that matters. Fortunately, the range of options available today is so diverse and advanced that answering the question in your own terms is easier than it’s ever been.