The festive season is upon us, which can only mean one thing. No, not Slade and Greg Lake playing on repeat day after day in Sainsbury’s (not just that anyway). ‘Tis time, audiophiles and music lovers, for the annual Hi-Fi News Yearbook with its round-up of “the hardware that inspired our senses and the music that stirred our souls throughout 2017”. So grab a mince pie, pull up a chair by the fire and join me in celebrating some of the 65+ goodies reviewed in this special issue.
Sourcing the best
Among the source components of choice are Kronos’ Sparta 0.5 deck, DS Audio’s innovative DS 002 optical phono cartridge and Exposure’s compact and bijou XM3 phonostage.
Kronos’ Sparta 0.5 is the Canadian brand’s entry-level deck and is partnered here with the Kronos 10.5-inch Helena tonearm. Together they “offer the sort of presentation that has you sitting back and simply immersing yourself in the music… orchestras were beautifully spread across the end of the listening room and smaller-scale acoustic performances were deliciously lifelike.”
Another entry-level selection (and Hi-Fi News Editor’s Choice) is Japanese DS Audio’s DS 002 optical phono cartridge. Neither an MC nor an MM design, here, the movement of the stylus and cantilever interrupts an LED light source falling on a photocell within the cartridge’s body. Featuring trickle-down technology from the company’s flagship DS Master 1 model, “this is clean yet sweet, precise in imaging and grand in scale. A triumph.”
British brand Exposure’s new XM series packs an impressive raft of features into a handful of compact components, aimed at music lovers who want top-flight performance across multiple media without jam-packing a room with mountains of massive kit. “Exposure has done it again with the XM3. It’s a phono stage that confirms its abilities by simply getting out of the way of the music and allowing your chosen cartridge to work it’s magic.”
Ramping it up
Moving on to amplification, Audio Analogue’s Maestro Anniversary integrated amp impresses with its powerful simplicity. Designed, along with the Puccini Anniversary, to mark the brand’s twentieth birthday, this was always going to be something a bit special. “It’s a big, magnificent sound that’s hard to resist… That rich, warm bass, allied to clarity and precision in the midband and treble, ensure both fine insight and an excellent sense of presence.”
Meanwhile, Metataxas’ Ikarus, also an integrated amp, “positively bellows luxury” with its “breathtaking sculptural shape”. “Nothing about it is conventional” and “it does not disappoint; it has a silkiness that’s instantly appealing…” A listen to Led Zeppelin unplugged “delivered the best of those ‘is it real?’ moments.”
Music to the ears
And finally to loudspeakers, where Raidho’s XT-1 standmount model “provides a perfect introduction to the company’s range” and earns a Hi-Fi News Editor’s Choice badge of approval to boot. It’s “a brilliant little speaker, adept at conjuring up a vast stereo soundstage with instruments located precisely.”
All of these and more…
To discover the full round-up of the year’s finest products and essential music, get your copy of the Hi-Fi News & Record Review Yearbook 2017 now from news-stands or at www.hifinews.co.uk
In the words of Noddy Holder, “Merry Christmas Everybody!” (I’ll get my coat….)