If there’s one thing lockdown has taught us to appreciate, it’s live music. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve been scratching our musical itch when we can. We’ve been enjoying exclusive Lockdown Sessions with the likes of Tom Grennan and JC Stewart — who have both also been lamenting the lack of festivals this year.
But there’s another way. And, in the absence of live performances, we’ve also been turning up the volume of our home sound systems; adding speakers, amplifiers and upping connectivity until our records spin, cassettes click and aux cables fizz with energy. Gigs may be taking a year off, but we’re enjoying more big sounds than ever.
And we’d suggest you do the same. There’s nothing quite like the escapism of turning up some tunes, kicking back with a good drink — more on that here — and enjoying the bassy blast of a summer anthem. So we’ve found five of the best; five excruciatingly engineered sound and speaker systems that will blow your eardrums off — but in a good way.
The Bang & Olufsen Beolab 90 is out of this world
Let’s start loudly — both in sound and design. Although we’d never expect anything less than the booming, bombastic best from Scandi audio wizard Bang & Olufsen. This, the towering Beolab 90 tower, looks almost extraterrestrial in its design. Perhaps the world’s most advanced loudspeaker, it is a sound system in and of itself; with more drivers and amplifiers in that alien shell than you can shake a microphone at.
Why is it so good? Aside from those singular looks — which we’ll get to — the Beolab 90 is chock full of some seriously impressive tech. Everything is fixed to a central aluminium core, with no less than 18 premium drivers, 14 channels of ICEpower amplifiers and four additional class D amplifiers giving you an almost intimidating 8,200 total watts of musical power and precision.
Where should you put it? Who knows? Wherever you end up standing the thing, it’ll look like you’ve carted it off the backlot of a sci-fi set. But, with a wide selection of fabric colours, aluminium tones and wood types to choose from, you can customise it to fit your home perfectly. And, if someone doesn’t like your colour combination of Smoked Oak and Parisian Night Blue at your next dinner party, just turn it on, drown them out and admire it yourself.
The Cambridge Audio CX Hifi System is technically terrific
Sleekly designed, and with a low resonance chassis that enhances sonic performance, this sound system from Cambridge Audio is almost as impressive as its speakers. Of course, those free-standing pillars of power are still the business end of the system, and we’d pair the CX with the British brand’s Aeromax 6.
Why is it so good? The system itself has a full colour display and sleek user interface, and you can choose from seven different modules to fully customise your audio experience. There’s two amplifiers, two receivers, a Blu-Ray player, network streamer and dedicated CD transport in the mix. Whatever you want to listen to, you’ll be able to do so with reliably crystal-clear clarity.
Where should you put it? Now this is obviously all about the speakers. They may be more simply designed than some we’ve included on this list, but they’re undoubtedly well-made. Nevertheless, they’re not as boastful as the Beolab 90 above, so this is a sound system to neatly, subtly integrate into your living space rather than make a feature of.
Ruark Audio’s R7 Mk3 High Fidelity Radiogram is a mouthful, but also an earful
Of course, a sound ‘system’ also suggests a certain number of speakers. You’d imagine a subwoofer tucked under your sofa, floor-standing speakers flanking your fireplace and bookshelf boosters tucked behind your favourite paperbacks. But Ruark Audio’s handsome Radiogram doesn’t need to delegate its work. It’s the full retro-styled package.
Why is it so good? Ruark has hand-crafted the Radiogram’s cabinet, tuning it to provide optimal conditions for the drive units, amplifier and electronics. The two bespoke stereo speakers also combine into a single point source driver, giving you an extended natural frequency response — to the layman, a lifelike soundstage that will immerse you in your music.
Where should you put it? Almost anywhere you want. That’s the beauty of investing in such a beautiful sound system. That’s rich walnut wood, by the way, if anyone asks — and they will. So give this pride of place; sit those spindle legs anywhere in your house — or even mount them below your TV to get optimum usage from your investment.
The Q Acoustics Concept 300 is a system you can set up anywhere
We’re not usually a fan of portmanteau words. Synergy? No thanks. Advertainment? Ergh. But Q Acoustics’ ‘Tensegrity’ leg design may just have won us over. Not the name, obviously. The name’s still terrible. But the design of stainless steel bars, seemingly skew-whiff and bolted on, is actually mightily stable — and means you can erect these singular Concept 300 speakers almost anywhere in your home.
Why is it so good? This speaker system doesn’t just have ‘Tensegrity’ going for it. It’s stuffed with several more buzzwords. From the ‘Dual Gelcore’ ultra-quiet cabinet construction to the ‘Point2Point’ bracing — which eliminates unwanted energy and reducing distortion — these fairly small, completely stable speakers are buzzing with technology.
Where should you put it? There are several finishes to choose from, and the numerous layers of lacquer give all of your options a high shine. So why not make a feature of the speakers? You might be tempted to separate them on either side of a fireplace or room, but we’d suggest creating a corner or area to show off the Concept 300’s design — and its portmanteau-powered sound.
The Naim Statement is making just that
Naim called this system ‘Statement’ — and it hit the acoustic nail on the head. Jet black and boasting a space-age design, this is the pinnacle of amplifiers — and has been in development since 2011. That’s a whole decade of tinkering and tampering to get this system right. And it shows.
Why is it so good? Pick your reason. The main, technical benefit is Naim’s use of separation. The noisy power supply is housed in the base of the Statement and the sensitive electronics are nestled above. Each section is then divided by an acrylic centrepiece that blocks interaction — and top section electronics are separated further still, with internal chambers isolating individual stages. It’s logical, but masterful.
Where should you put it? Imposing. Monolithic. Starkly designed, but organically detailed. Even we’re struggling as to where to put it. It’d look too grandiose for your living room, and it’s far too large for a study. No, the Statement is a system for real enthusiasts — people with spaces dedicated to their unquenchable passion for high-end audio. That, and for people with over £100,000 to spend…