Sometimes discreet is better. In the early years of What Hi-Fi?, and certainly before then, home entertainment kit was hidden away, or disguised as other pieces of furniture. There were stereograms the size of sideboards and televisions hidden away in cabinets. Often the only equipment not lurking out of view was a pair of loudspeakers.
In the past few decades, however, changing technology has brought changing lifestyle habits with it. Now, people don’t blink at 55in or larger television screens dominating a relatively small living room. (It’s those tech changes, you see; they might think twice if it was a 55in old-school cathode ray tube set hulking down in the corner. Imagine that? You would need a crane to get it in situ…). Equipment these days is often proudly out on show – and, where once it was just vinyl, radio and television, there are now so many more ways to get your home entertainment fix.
Discreet still has huge appeal though. Whether your living area is bijou, or you would rather devote your available space to something else, there’s a lot to be said for the subtle.
So what we have here is a system that, in the third decade of the 21st century, will cover most bases for the more minimalist music and movie fan.
It centres around the excellent Elac Debut ConneX powered speakers. It might be an old What Hi-Fi? adage that separate products perform better than all-in-one systems, but it’s undeniable that multi-tasking pieces of kit can still do a wonderful job, taking up way less space while they do so. And when they perform as well as the Elac pair, it’s a no-brainer to combine speaker and amplification into these clever little (less than a school ruler in height) boxes. They are Bluetooth enabled as well, so you can stream directly to them from a smart device if you feel the need.
But if you don’t have to do that, you probably shouldn’t. There is no CD player in this system, but pretty much every other 21st century means of getting your tunes out of a hi-fi (and more) is included.
Music streamer: WiiM Pro Plus
Streaming duties are performed by the excellent new WiiM Pro Plus. WiiM was a new name to our testing rooms when this little unit appeared a couple of months ago. But the Pro Plus impressed us so much that we awarded it a Best Buy in our What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023.
It will set you back less than half the price of the excellent Cambridge Audio MXN10, which had been the most ‘affordable’ quality streamer we had come across before this box of tricks. Which is all well and good, of course, but means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t perform. But it’s here in this system; so of course it performs remarkably well for the outlay.
It’s about the size and weight of a paperback book, so it fits in nicely with the discreet theme of this system. And it will tick most of the streaming boxes anyone could wish for: dual-band wi-fi and Bluetooth 5.1, Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Amazon Music, Qobuz, Deezer… the list goes on. It also has DLNA compatibility, so can access any tunes you might have stored on a network. It will handle hi-res files up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512, and operates at a native 24-bit/192kHz.
Turntable: Rega Planar 1 Plus
We marry the modernity of the WiiM streamer with an, on the face of it, old-school record player. But, as a glance at the turntable Awards category for 2023 should show, vinyl records are gaining in popularity at a remarkable rate. Indeed, sales in the United States in 2022 exceeded those of the compact disc for the first time in 35 years.
In keeping with the system theme, we are sticking with multi-tasking products. The Rega Planar 1 is one of our favourite decks, and a multiple What Hi-Fi? Award winner. The Planar 1 Plus takes all that is good about the Planar 1 and adds, in effect, a pared-back version of the Rega Fono Mini A2D phono stage. And it performs absolutely beautifully.
It plays records with drive, punch, agility and subtlety; but most importantly, it’s a really fun and exciting listen. Were you to buy the record player and phono stage separately, you might save a tenner; the sound you get, though, is very similar – but with different emphases in each of their presentations. The separates set-up has a touch more authority and muscle, where the Planar 1 Plus is cleaner, leaner and times a little better. A matter of preference then, perhaps. This, though, is a discreet system – so for our purposes, it’s the Planar 1 Plus all the way.
Powered speakers: Elac Debut ConneX DCB41
Both these sources of music then send their signals to the Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 (yet another new 2023 Award winner). As we mention above, these are more than simply powered speakers: they are Bluetooth compatible, and there is in fact a phono stage included in there as well. We find, though, that the phono stage in the record player is well worth the extra outlay over the far more modest efforts that we get from the Elac speakers.
You could get away with these little boxes as desktop speakers for a computer and the like, but they are easily good enough to perform on stands out in your room as your main sound providers.
This is a controlled, even-handed and understated sound – not the most exciting, perhaps, but it’s really likeable and enjoyable all the same. The Elac duo brings little of itself to proceedings, allowing the music to play without distraction. As we say in our review, “the Elacs’ presentation is nicely judged in the sense that it’s a little rounded to keep the system unfussy about recording quality, but not so much that better signals suffer.” Perfect then, for a system such as this.
TV: LG OLED42C3
“But what’s this?” we hear the eagle-eyed reader say. “There’s a telly in your hi-fi system!”
Indeed there is. The Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 will do sterling service as the speakers for your two-channel audio needs. This, though, is supposed to be a discreet system, so why not go the whole hog and incorporate all home entertainment needs in one superbly performing package? For the Elacs have one more trick up their sleeve: an HDMI ARC input. This makes them perfect to perform as speakers for your TV as well. What better solution for a small space?
The fact that they will sound better than any price-appropriate soundbar – and well above price appropriate, come to that – only adds to our conviction that this should be a complete package for music and movies. You will miss out on any soundbar surround trickery such as Dolby Atmos, of course, but we would urge you to consider foregoing that in favour of a sound that will, in all other aspects, knock a soundbar into the weeds.
The obvious TV to choose for this system is the 42in LG OLED42C3. Another recipient of a trophy at this year’s Awards for the best 40-43in TV, it launched at a price of £1500 and can now be found for considerably less, making it much more of a bargain. It is extremely well specified – with all four HDMI sockets being 2.1 certified at the full bandwidth of 48Gbps. So you are future-proofed with this set as well.
What’s more, there is an advantage to going small, over a 65in behemoth: pixel density. Because the pixels are more tightly packed, sharpness is increased, and the crispness of the OLED42C3’s delivery makes its (still brilliant) 65in sibling look a bit soft. It’s the best 42in TV we have seen this year.
If you want a system that can keep up with all the ways you enjoy music and consume entertainment today – spin records, stream playlists, watch TV – these four outstanding products will fit the bill.
Altogether, it’s a versatile system that remains rather more subtle than has become the norm in recent years and offers an alternative option to the traditional hi-fi separates set-up, while still ensuring you get the best possible performance overall. At over two grand it’s not exactly cheap but it’s not crazy money either, and we think it will keep you set for quite a few years to come, too.
An alternative? We’ve blended vinyl with streaming to create a sensational hi-fi system
How to get the best sound from your turntable
8 ways to make your hi-fi sound better for free