This issue: Hi-Fi Systems
Denon DM 40 £200
This little hi-fi system might look a tad familiar. That’s because the M series of Denon mini systems has been around for nearly twenty years now. The current incarnation is finding a new lease of life thanks to punters who want to still own a CD player, but also might team the hi-fi up with streaming options via a phone or tablet. If that’s the route you fancy you should note that the Denon only offers wired connections - there’s no Bluetooth integrated here. You do get a DAB digital radio tuner though, as well as a USB socket.
In spite of its size the DM40 packs quite a punch thanks to its 30 watts of power output, which ought to be enough to fill any small room. The £200 pays only for the unit - you will have to budget a bit more for speakers - take a look at the quirky Podspeakers MicroPod SE, or if you have the budget, the PSB Imagine Mini speakers
The DM40 certainly handled our first track, Kylver’s doom-prog The Dance of the Mountain Ghost, well enough, revelling in that eerie keyboard opening. The way the drums and guitars arrived lacked a little punch, and the bass was a tad mushy at times, but overall given its price the DM40 is an admirable performer.
Marantz MCR611 £420
If you are happy to push the budget a little then take a look at the Marantz MCR611. It is certainly one of the most stylish mini hi-fi systems around with its high gloss, jet black finish and customisable front cover illuminations - you can choose between white, blue, green or orange.
The model is also a step up from the Denon in terms of its features, for in addition to the staples, the CD player and DAB tuner, it also boasts an internet radio system, Bluetooth and streaming options. It can easily be integrated into a home Wi-Fi network to access music stored on computers or other devices
The big difference with the Kylver track, between the Marantz and the Denon, was on the former there was a lot more low end oomph. The guitar and drums certainly had an impact that was missing on the cheaper system. Our other track, Les Revenants, by US based progger Rian Adkinson, also sounded impressive with good levels of detail both at the top and bottom end of the sound spectrum. In particular the vocals sounded a lot more upfront on the Marantz than it had on the Denon.
Again the price quoted (£400) is for the system only, so expect to budget a little more for decent quality speakers to make the most of its excellent performance.
Naim UnitiLite £2000
On then to the serious high end hi-fi. The Naim UnitiLite has been around for five years, and in that time has built up a reputation as one of the best and most flexible hi-fi systems on sale. It is superbly constructed - from a CD player tray that is solid that there’s no way any errant vibrations will affect your enjoyment of the music, to a wealth of inputs and options. For the record then, in addition to the DAB tuner and CD player, there’s Spotify Connect built in, Bluetooth, internet radio and a home network connection capability. There is also a really good quality downloadable app for iOS so you can control the system from your iPhone or iPad.
Interestingly, the power output, at 50 watts per channel, isn’t a huge leap on from its rivals, but it is the level of detail that sets the Naim apart here.
The Kylver track shifted performances up another level with a massive, but highly controlled bass undercurrent, that adds to the impact of the eerie track. You can also hear many more nuances of the music, especially the interplay between the guitar and the keyboard. With the Rian Adkinson track the music has even more presence with the vocals and guitar really ringing out through the speakers.
Chances are that even though you are into streaming music - you quite possibly have a serious back catalogue of CDs too (and maybe some vinyl). Also it is a myth that all of those tracks on CD are now available via Spotify and Deezer and in fact many of them never will be. So if you want a system that can also spin those shiny silver discs then this trio are well worth exploring.
Even the cheapest of the three, the Denon DM40, comes packed with features so you can listen to DAB radio as well connect devices like iPhones and computers. It should be said though that the more money you spend the easier it is to connect the devices.
Ultimately the key differences between these three systems is their build and sound quality. Both the Denon and the Marantz are capable of good quality performances that will sound great in small-ish rooms. If you want to really push the sonic envelope though, the Naim not only offers fantastic build quality, but also has the power and control to really push your CDs and the streaming options, to the limits of their performance . It might masquerade as an all one system, but this is proper hi-fi with a sonic performance to match.