12k cManufacturers of speakers have learned a truth they now hold dear – if it isn’t good looking it won’t sell no matter how good it sounds. Just maybe that message is starting to filter through to those who make other forms of the hi fi gear. Look at the Devialet amplifier; this is not something you stuff in a cabinet, it’s art. So is its remote.

The bonus is that it’s really good at its job. So it should be for nearly $8000.

A few weeks ago we talked about a starter hi fi system that was good enough to satisfy serious music lovers while also getting younger people interested in music the way it should sound, rather than the way it does through computers and MP3 players. The story brought a lot of inquiry from readers, a good deal of who have been listening to good music for years and are now looking at replacing equipment on its last legs. Good hi fi equipment lasts 20 years and more, a CD player maybe 10. Much happens in the interim.

Prices certainly move up but value rises more. Achieving top shelf sound quality costs a lot less now than 20 years ago, especially among turntables and disc players. So we shopped a couple of dealers for premium systems that would knock our socks off, and we met the Devialet 120 Air.

12k bWe had vaguely nominated 12 grand as a budget and in the finest traditions of retail the first combo we were shown was the Davialet with a pair of B&W 805 Diamond speakers. This totalled $13,700 and we hadn’t even talked disc players, turntables or digital to analogue converters (DACs) yet. But the set-up looked and sounded great and had the bonus of being supremely beautiful. And nicely compact.

The Devialet handles wifi streaming and AirPlay, it has an optical input for a television and a coaxial for a Blu-ray player, and a phono input for a turntable. And there’s tricky tech matching its output with the characteristics of a range of speakers.

But back to earth; what could we get within budget? The dealer now started talking Linn, a venerable brand famous for its turntables; a 30-year-old Linn Sondek still sounds better than many brand new hyper expensive turntables. We could combine the Majik DSM amplifier with Majik 140 speakers for $10,500.

The amplifier has music streaming and decodes a vast range of electronic music storage formats up to 24-bit/96-kilohertz quality, it has 15 inputs including phono and HDMI and it pumps out 95 watts each side. It’s a perfect match for the speakers, generous four-way floor-standing units with outstanding high range as well as beefy, accurate bass.

But again this combo was only amplifier and speakers and we wanted the full deal for our money. Try again.

Now we’re talking Electrocompaniet ECi3 amplifier ($3999) with its matching ECC1 CD player ($4500) and B&W PM1 speakers ($3299, and $800 for stands). These speakers love power and the amp gives them 70 watts each for a rich, beautifully balanced result. All up $11,798, or $12,598 with stands. But still no digital to analogue converter or turntable.

So we tried another dealer and, hey, he put together everything we wanted within our budget.

12k aIt started with a Musical Fidelity M3si amplifier ($2199 and 85 watts a side) with five analogue inputs including a phono, a home theatre through-pass to integrate with a surround speaker system and a 24-bit/96-kilohertz digital USB input. This was matched with an M3sCD player $1995 and a digital to analogue converter, the M1CLIC at $1999, both again from Musical Fidelity. The DAC brings high resolution streaming via Ethernet or wifi, internet radio and several digital audio inputs. And it’s controllable by iPhone. But note; this model has just been discontinued although stocks still exist.

Add a Rega RP6 turntable at $1799 (a ripper for the money) with an Elys2 cartridge at $249, and play it all through a pair of Focal’s delicious Aria 926 three-way bass reflex floor standing speakers at $3299 in walnut or $3699 in piano black and you have a truly satisfying result that will pump out wonderful music, likely for a couple of decades. All up $11,540. Add some good quality cables and interconnects and you’re there for $12k.

Published November 2014