“Old-school” vinyl co-exists happily with the latest Bluetooth wireless technology in the world of hi-fi audio.
Jimi Hendrix wasn’t overly concerned about living forever. “When I die, just keep playing the records,” the legendary guitarist once said. And we do just that, even though the way in which we choose to receive the music we want to listen to is evolving at a faster rate than ever. What would Thomas Edison, who invented the first phonograph in 1887, have made of the cassette or compact disc, let alone the notion that people’s music “collection” might not actually exist in physical form at all, but as a series of downloaded computer files, or be accessed by “streaming” the information invisibly from the internet?
According to research and consulting service Futuresource, the global home-audio market was worth more than $13bn in 2017. So turntables, headphones and loudspeakers – wired or wireless – are going to be with us for a long time to come. Below, Mick Sharp looks at some of the latest audio offerings.
Vinyl stalwarts have probably allowed themselves a wry giggle while reading of the so-called “vinyl revival”. Vinyl never went away for a lot of music lovers, and they are well served by turntable manufacturers eager to capture a new generation of listeners as well as offering something new to “old hands”. The Audio-Technica AT-LP5 (pictured top) works well with “any music you throw at it”, says Verity Burns on Stuff.tv, “digging out an impressive amount of detail across a wide, open soundstage”. There’s even a USB connection if you want to “burn” your music to an MP3 file. £249, hificonfidential.co.uk
If you don’t mind being “tied” to a pair of traditional “wired” headphones, one brand you might not have heard of is Grado. They are hand-built in Brooklyn, New York, by a three-generations-old family business that prides itself on “unwavering dedication”, in which “sound will always be our top priority”. The Grado SR325e “blew the socks off” the trade press: “If you’re serious about sound quality and they fit your budget, what are you waiting for?” asks What Hi-Fi, awarding them its best on-ear headphones £100-£400 award for 2018. £269, sevenoakssoundandvision.co.uk
Bose is used to creating a big sound out of small speakers, and it has done it again with the seemingly ubiquitous QuietComfort 35 II headphones. You’ll see plenty of these as you stroll around the city centre, which tells you something – they’re damned good. “These Bose beauties are the headphones to beat and they win a well-deserved best buy award,” says Jonathan Bray on Expertreviews.co.uk The noise cancelling is second-to-none and they can also be used with Google voice assistant. £289, hifix.co.uk
One of the great advantages of the Cambridge Audio Yoyo (M) is that these wireless speakers come as a pair, giving the kind of stereo separation one-box alternatives can’t compete with. They are “a reminder of why two speakers are so much better than one”, says Andrew Williams of Techradar.com. Easy to “pair” with a phone, computer or streamer, the Yoyos come clothed in an attractive worsted wool weave from Yorkshire’s Marton Mills. They are totally portable and a full charge will give you 24 hours of music, wherever you decide to use them. £249, richersounds.com
Sennheiser has a long tradition of producing quality audio, and these MB 660 “cans” keep that tradition alive. The sound is tight and controlled and they are comfortable enough for long listening sessions. They also feature active noise cancellation, which allows you to blend in as much or as little ambient sound as you choose, so you don’t feel totally “cut-off”. “Sennheiser wins the auditory contest for me,” says Adrian Bridgwater on forbes.com. £252, best4headsets.co.uk
If you’re prepared to splash out £2,000 for a pair of speakers, the KEF LS50 wireless speakers would be a great home for your cash. They’re “active”, so individual hi-fi separates can be connected directly to the back of one of the sleek, stylish enclosures to get the benefit of a truly sumptuous soundstage. “They dig up so much detail,” says What Hi-Fi, giving the KEFs its highest, five-star rating. “They’re a complete system wrapped in a neat and brilliant package.” As well as accepting “old school” separates, they also feature wireless streaming. £1,999, premiumsound.co.uk
In-ear headphones aren’t to everyone’s taste, but if you can stand the intrusion they do deliver a totally immersive sound. The RHA T20i are a case in point. “Some of the most comfortable in-ears we’ve tested,” says What Hi-Fi, giving them a four-star rating. Cheaper “buds” struggle to give the kind of fuller sound “over-ear” phones deliver, but there’s no such problem with the T20i. Bass response is strong and powerful, and you can also customise the sound delivered with supplied interchangeable “tuning filters”. There’s a built-in microphone if you need to take a call. £149.95, rha-audio.com