Due to the multitude of options now available to us when it comes to consuming music, many (mostly younger) audiophiles would have you believe that the future involves being hunched over our phones with a pair of headphones and an infinite supply of tunes at our disposal. But there is another way. There's something so pure and unfettered about lying back and cranking up a decent Hi-Fi system that has been discovered time and time again by generation after generation, and that's something that simply can't be replicated by a smartphone, no matter how fancy it is.
So, against all odds, the Hi-Fi market continues to thrive amongst discerning affectionados, and if you're in the market for a new system, here we're offering a thorough and unbiased guide, which, if you pay attention, should help you figure out exactly what you need, why you need it and what brand you'll be pledging your allegiance to.
How much does a Hi-Fi system cost?
Thankfully, whatever your budget, there should be a system within your reach (unless you're a real skinflint, in which case we can't help you). The first thing you're going to want to ask yourself is if you're after an all-in-one solution or a range of hi-fi separates that you can use to build your own, custom system. If you're looking for sheer quality, separates are probably the way to go, though they will probably end up setting you back a little more. The major monetary bonus of separates, however, is that you're only paying for what you know you're going to be using.
OneBox complete systems could cost you anywhere from £100 to £1000 depending on the make and model, with more boutique systems obviously hitting the upper reaches of that estimate. The price will depend not only on the brand name and the quality of the components, but the amount of features each system features, so make sure you do your research before pulling the trigger! Also, remember that whilst some systems come with speakers, others will require you to supply your own. Separates, meanwhile, are another beast entirely. You could end up spending literally thousands on a world-beating Hi-Fi, complete with everything from turntables, cassette decks and DAB tuners to media players, streaming devices and CD recorders, or you could spend juts a few hundred pounds for a bare-bones system. Either way, there are countless options, so research is key!
What’s the best Hi-Fi brand?
There are many audio manufacturers in the Hi-Fi game, and whilst not all of them are perhaps as visible and respected as major brands like Sony and Yamaha, you'll often end up finding the best deals (and sometimes even the best gear) if you look towards the smaller brands. That's not to say the big guys have nothing to offer of course, far from it in fact, but you should really consider some of the less obvious brands if you want to get your bang for your buck. Which brand is best for you ultimately depends on what you want from your Hi-Fi system and what kind of music you prefer to listen to. The larger, more established brand such as Bose and Pioneer will generally provide jack-of-all-trade solutions of all devices fit for all purposes, whilst more specialised brands like Tibo, Roberts, Pro-Ject and Roksan are more specialised brands, whose products will appeal to audiophiles looking for a more specific, tailored experience.
What do you need for a Hi-Fi system
What you'll need for your system depends very much on what you'll be listening to and how often you'll be listening to it. If, for example, you will be streaming the vast majority of your music through a service such as Spotify, you'll want a bluetooth streaming solution. Conversely, if you will primarily be playing vinyl, you're going to want to spend more of your budget on a decent turntable with an amplifier built to better handle and accentuate vinyl. Here we'll list all of the Hi-Fi separates you might want to consider when building your system. It's up to you whether or not you think they'll earn a place in your rig!
Amplifier – This is essentially the heart and brain of your system, and the first and most important part you're going to want to look into. The amplifier drives everything else in your system. It is the device that literally amplifies the sounds coming from your other separates, and is the part of your system you'll want to not only buy first, but probably spent the lion's share of your budget on if you really want to great sound from your system. You have two options here if you're buying separates: integrated amplifiers, or a combination of pre and power amplifiers.
An integrated amplifier is the most affordable option, as it contains both pre and power amps in one box, and contains all necessary connections for your other separates. Power amps, meanwhile, are designed to boost a pre-amplified (line level) signal to drive speakers and must be used together with a pre-amplifier, which is responsible for the volume, tone and input switching. As you would expect, splitting the actions into two devices will generally result in a better quality of amplification, but it will also set you back quite a bit more.
Speakers – If you're buying your system as Hi-Fi separates, chances are you will also need to buy your own speakers. How much you spend, and the size and quality of your speakers is obviously down to you and your personal preferences, but putting a powerful Hi-Fi system through a tiny pair of bookshelf speakers might be a bit of a waste. Also, remember to research whether or not you require passive or active speakers for your system!
Tuners – DAB radios are very much in vogue at the moment, so you definitely don't want to be left behind.
CD Player – Whilst the age of the CD might becoming to and end, we all probably have hundreds of the things still knocking about, so you'll definitely want to indulge yourself is a decent CD player. You could spend anywhere from £100 to a couple of grand on a CD player, and as with most tech, you generally get what you pay for. You could also opt for a multi-disc system if you want to be able to keep a host of your favourite albums on hand at the touch of a button. There is also the option of a CD Recorder, which can simply and effectively record audio from other separates and burn it onto a CD; very handy if you have a large vinyl collection that's seen better days and could do with being backed up, or you have a large digital collection you want to store on something a little more tangible and permanent.
Media Players & Streamers – With the great digital music revolution underway, you'd be mad to overlook a decent media player, which can store potentially thousands of tracks, or a streamer that could hook up to your computer or smart device and stream your favourite online music service, be it Spotify or iTunes..
Turntable – This will play your vinyl records. If you don't collect vinyl and never intend on collecting vinyl, a turntable obviously isn't necessary, but we really think you'd be missing out, especially considering the quality and affordability of modern turntables and the general resurgence of vinyl over the past decade!
Cassette Decks – Finally, a cassette deck might seem a little antiquated, but there are still thousands, nay millions of audiophiles around the world who swear by the format. Modern players have technology that will clean up your tapes and make them sound better than ever too!