Which all-in-one audio system is right for you?

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The days of the old radiograms and music centres may be past, but there’s no shortage of ideas for compact, high-performance hi-fi – it can save space and is easy to use, too

It wasn’t long after the rise of the gramophone as a domestic music source that the first integrated audio systems appeared. By the 1930s, when Gramophone was still in its teens, the first combined radio/record-playing units – or radiograms – started to appear, and in the post-war period the sideboard-shaped music player, complete with radio, often an autochanger record deck, amplification and speakers was hugely popular, especially as we moved into the stereo age.

We can probably all remember a relative who had one of them, from ornate French polished models to sleeker designs in the lighter woods of the Scandinavian furniture trend, and for many of us the valve-powered family radiogram may well have been where we played our first records all those years ago. Yet with the arrival of solid-state amplification and more ways to play music, many radiograms found their way to jumble sales or the local tip, replaced by acrylic-lidded music centres complete with turntable, cassette deck and radio tuner, supplied complete with separate stereo speakers. These days there’s still some interest in radiograms as ‘vintage pieces’, but they’re hardly covetable: you can buy one in working condition for under £50 and at the time of writing even an unrestored Braun model, designed by the great Dieter Rams, could be found online for less than £100.

klipsch fives

Klipsch’s The Fives

Yet as this month’s review of the Klipsch The Nines speakers shows, the idea has never really gone away, even though it’s changed beyond all recognition. The range starts with Klipsch’s The Fives, a compact pair of active speakers standing just over 30cm tall, yet capable of playing music from your phone, from a computer or even from a TV using 160W of amplification built into each speaker, and all controlled from a simple app.

ruark r7

Ruark R7

In a completely different form, but as similar in concept to an old radiogram as you could find, the remarkable Ruark R7 was a slender, table-like design described as ‘the radiogram reimagined’: complete with those very 1950s spindly tapered legs, but with fully up-to-date features – CD, radio and streaming, plus amplification and speakers all built-in.

ruark r5

Ruark R5

Launched in 2014, it reached Mk3 status before, sadly, component supply problems have caused it to be discontinued, although we’re promised a replacement later this year: for now, the company offers the smaller, but fine-sounding Ruark R5 model, a table-top version of the same thinking, still in the same choice of real wood or lacquer finished. It also has the same range of capabilities, plus the ability to sync with other R Series models, and the MRx wireless speakers, to expand into a full cable-free multiroom system.

naim muso 2

Naim Mu-so

That multiroom capability has been a feature of the Naim Mu-so range since it was launched in 2014 as a low, sleek and wide ‘soundbar’ design complete with integrated streaming, Bluetooth and more, hugely powerful amplification and a speaker array developed in conjunction with partner Focal behind its interchangeable grilles – all under the control of Naim’s excellent app. It’s proved highly influential in Naim thinking: a year after the launch, the original Mu‑so was joined by the smaller, square Mu-so Qb model, the two turning into 2nd Generation versions with enhanced amplification and speakers in 2019, and special editions appearing more recently.

naim muso wood edition

Naim Mu-so Wood Edition

A Bentley Special Edition appeared in 2020 to reflect Naim’s audio systems for the car manufacturer, and a Wood Edition was launched in 2021. Meanwhile the large, illuminated volume control became part of the company’s flagship Statement preamplifier, and appears again on the latest New Classic NSC 222 streaming preamplifier, the streaming platform of Mu-so has now migrated into a wide range of Naim network products, and of course that white logo, replacing the traditional green ones, has become more prevalent. And with Naim marking its 50th anniversary this year, who knows what we may see from this top-selling all-in-one range?

ifi audio aurora

iFi Audio Aurora

Not to be outdone, another British manufacturer has its own ‘all-in-one’ style statement: the iFi Audio Aurora looks like nothing else on the market, finished in slatted bamboo influenced by modern Japanese architecture, and ‘floating’ on a triangular metal frame. And it’s just as unusual inside: as well as streaming network music and supporting Bluetooth and AirPlay, it has multiple drive-units to create a room-filling sound, and a unique acoustic measurement system able to work out where the unit is placed, and tailor its sound accordingly. It’s a striking, and superb-sounding, system.

kef ls60


But if you want your all-in-one to at least look like a high-end hi-fi system, look no further than the KEF LS60 flagship wireless speaker system. Housed in a pair of slender floorstanding speakers, just 13cm wide and particularly striking in the Royal Blue finish option – you can also have white or Titanium Grey – is a full streaming system. It’s able to play network music, online services and more, as well as accepting inputs via digital and analogue connections, HDMI from a TV, Bluetooth Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Roon, all controlled by the KEF Connect app. And with 700W of amplification for each channel, plus the company’s acclaimed driver technology, listening to these speakers truly convinces that one might just be listening to the future of hi-fi…

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Gramophone magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today

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