Think inside the box
Hi-Fi Choice|July 2021
All-in-one systems might be an old idea, but today’s cutting edge is breathing new life into the concept, as David Vivian discovers
David Vivian

DETAILS

PRODUCT Cambridge Audio Evo 150

ORIGIN UK/China

TYPE One-box streaming system

WEIGHT 5.3kg

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 317 x 89 x 352mm

FEATURES

  • Quoted power output: 2 x 150W (8ohm)

  • Bluetooth aptX HD/Chromecast/ Airplay 2

  • Compatible with up to 32-bit/384kHz (asynchronous) and DSD 256

DISTRIBUTOR Cambridge Audio

TELEPHONE 0207 9402200

WEBSITE cambridgeaudio. com

Full of wonder though the modern world is, I can’t shake the idea that the only true all-in-one audio systems were built half a century ago. Remembered by a teenage me as staple student sleep-over entertainment, the music centre was the real deal, the one-stop-shop to which nothing at all need be added. A triumph of size over sophistication, the hulking behemoths incorporated turntable, cassette deck, AM/FM tuner, amplifier and, tethered by the thinnest, cheapest cable known to science, intriguingly lightweight loudspeakers. Marvellous. Except, of course, the coalition was usually so severely compromised, sound quality frequently plumbed the depths of mediocrity. This, in turn, gave aspiring audiophiles the opportunity to rubbish music centres by championing the sonic delights of separates. And the rest is… well, you know what they say. But signs are that the future is planning a rewrite.

Delivered to market on the fast-shifting sands of ‘convergence tech’, Cambridge Audio’s Evo 75 and 150 single-box solutions pay homage to both the music centre and the reactive separates revolution it was part of while providing a timely hint of what might lie ahead.

For now, there are two types of all-in-one hi-fi system and, naturally, both have streaming smarts at their heart. Arguably the more radical approach is the digitally replete active speaker system (wired or wireless) to which you might decide to add a server of some description and possibly legacy sources – say a CD player or transport, a turntable or even a cassette or open-reel tape deck. Think KEF LS50 Wireless (HFC 433) and System Audio Legend 5.2 Silverback and WiSA hub (HFC 474).

The other, much closer in concept to the music centre of yore, is the digitally savvy amplification hub allowing you to connect passive speakers of choice and, as with the active speakers, hook up those hard-to-part-with legacy sources as required. Essentially, we’re talking about a network and DAC-enabled integrated amp with bells (possibly knobs) on, including a larger, hi-res colour display, slicker smartphone/ tablet, app-assisted, user interface and an implicit promise that no widget, however marginal, should be left on the shelf. Early game changers HFC has reviewed include NAD’s M10 (HFC 451) and Naim’s Uniti Star (HFC 433).

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