Don’t junk your hi-fi! It may seem rather an obvious catch-cry from a magazine of our ilk, and certainly coming from someone who has an attic storage space into which are crammed a goodly number more speakers than could be reasonably required to fill the home in question, or indeed several additional ones.
But it is something we have to underline more than you might think. A couple of decades back, the home hi-fi system was an absolute essential in any self-respecting family home, and doubly so in the questionable environs of a bachelor pad or student home. One might wish it were still so, but as any longstanding hi-fi manufacturer or retailer will tell you, the march of technology brought forth a succession of rivals to these audio affections, and the home hi-fi was soon competing on multiple fronts with home computers, games consoles and a new car every three years, while the rise of D-I-Y and cheaper air travel saw funds being channelled instead into home renovations or extravagant foreign holidays.
Now I’m sure that most of our readers would have no trouble explaining the lifestyle benefits of owning a fine hi-fi rather than a granite benchtop, but there are still some in the world who seem sadly deluded in this regard. I blame marketing and lifestyle television channels.
More recently there has been a competitor closer to home, as the traditional two-speaker home stereo system has lost ground to the influx, nay invasion, of wireless speakers, and now the growing collection of wireless multiroom systems. We have nothing against wireless multiroom, of course — our April-May 2016 issue of Sound+Image is bursting at the staples with reviews of the best multiroom systems with the wireless speakers which form part of them, and some of the one-box solutions are very impressive.
But there is an inference that that’s all you need — you can sweep away the traditional hi-fi system and replace it all with one décor-friendly little wireless box tucked away somewhere.
Don’t do it. There are some great wireless speakers, for sure, but if you’re used to a traditional two-speaker hi-fi system, you may find even the best of them enormously lacking in comparison. Use these smaller boxes to extend your music into new rooms, by all means — that’s what multiroom is all about. But keep a real hi-fi somewhere in the home where music can be enjoyed at its full — large and real, rich and true.
What about the streaming? What about Bluetooth? Well if you’re starting from scratch there’s no shortage of high-quality hi-fi which offers all the modern conveniences, with even the highest of audiophile brands these days offering ways to incorporate computer-based playback and streaming from online music services. And there are multiroom offerings which include high-level hi-fi within their systems — our multiroom round-up includes Dynaudio’s $15,000 wireless speakers, or on a smaller scale perhaps Yamaha’s neat stereo wireless NX-N500 speakers (highlighted in our round-up as part of our MusicCast system).
But if you already have an older system, you don’t need to junk it. Assuming it’s one that you like, and which works, you can easily upgrade it to include all these 21st-century sources. Nearly all the multiroom systems reviewed in this issue offer a small (often inexpensive) receiver unit that can plug easily into any high-quality system, new or old, so that you can keep playing music from your traditional sources but can also use a smartphone to select and control audio from your favourite app, from music stored on your phone, from your computer, or your iPad — zap, and it comes straight out of your hi-fi, quite possibly sounding just as good as everything else.
So when looking at multiroom wireless systems, please don’t think of them only as collections of wireless speakers. Look at the apps and the streaming services to see what these platforms can add to your existing hi-fi, and how the wireless speakers might expand your audio system to other rooms around the home. If in doubt, ask a dealer.
Don’t make it a question of ‘wireless speakers versus hi-fi’. You can have both. You can have it all!