23 Pro-Ject Stereo Box S2 bA $25 USB stick holds more data than 23,000 3.5-inch floppy discs; maybe you knew that. Mobile phones have more computing power than the Apollo moon program; everybody knows that. So someone tell the hi fi industry. Stereo equipment hasn’t shrunk in 60 years.

The first stereo records carrying popular music hit the market in 1958 and if you didn’t have a turntable you didn’t have stereo. Stereo components were all 44 cm wide so they could be stacked on top of each other with a turntable plonked on top. Racks were built for this size, furniture was designed around this size and the industry still clings to it. That’s why when you take the casing off many stereo components most of what you find inside is vacant space.

Everyone else has moved on, and not just in musical reproduction. There’s the way we live. Space is precious these days. So can a decent amplifier be smaller? Of course it can. Take Pro-Ject’s Stereo Box S2.

23 ProJect Stereo Box S2 dThis is admittedly a very simple amplifier. It has three inputs – two RCAs and AptX Bluetooth – and it delivers a modest 25 watts per channel into eight-ohm speakers and 37 watts into four-ohm speakers. The only controls are a source selector and a volume knob, which means its credit card sized remote gets lost down the couch.

So how big is it? Put a CD case on top of it and it disappears entirely. Take the CD out and lay that on top and you’ll only see its corners. Its footprint, 10.3 by 12.9 cm, is two thirds that of a CD case and only a bit bigger than an Apple TV. Its height is 3.7 cm and it weighs 390 grams. Even a crowded desk has room for it. Take the casing off and you’ll find no vacant space at all, and yet after running all day it’s only a few degrees above room temperature.

You won’t find a large toroidal transformer in here (the 20-volt DC power supply is separate) or a couple of generous capacitors to cope with challenging musical transients, yet the little Stereo Box doesn’t perform badly at all.

Okay, it can struggle driving eight-ohm speakers with the volume right up, and the big thump halfway through Stravinsky’s Firebird that normally knocks me off my chair allowed me to remain seated this time. But hook up Pro-Ject’s $999 four-ohm Speaker Box 5S2 speakers and it delivers enough volume for a decent party. With volume at three-fifths it fills a large room.

23 Pro-Ject Speaker Box 5S2 aThese speakers have a 15 cm mid/bass and a 2.5 cm silk dome tweeter and they’re also compact; 16 x 27 x 22 cm (WxHxD). There’s good detail, good imaging and a reasonable soundstage, but the highs get a bit thin and sharpish – especially at higher volumes – and there’s not a lot of body; Sibelius’s Karelia Suite overture sounds less inspiring. But then being four-ohm they draw more power out of the amplifier and they’re nicely compact.

The point is that all the music is coming from an amplifier that performs happily just about anywhere it will fit, and it will fit just about anywhere. And it’s $490.

By offering this amp with the 5S2 speakers ($1489 total but you can likely do a deal) Pro-Ject is targeting people who listen to Bluetooth speakers because they have space for nothing better. With this they’ll get proper stereo, far better sound quality and way more power than they’ve ever had, and there’s no major imposition on their space.

A great idea somewhat overdue.

First published by smh.com.au June 2018


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