There is a particular breed of music centre, a single unit that combines multiple sources into something far above the basic mini system — more of a ‘style’ solution. What are the goals, then? Simplicity of use — choosing different sources, controlling them, adjusting them. Elegance of looks — some companies specialise in retro looks, other go firmly modernist, but they shouldn’t be busy or hectic or covered with knobs; they need to sit cleanly in a modern home, the kind of superior prop used in home magazines.
And last, great sound. Why pay for a piece of audio furniture that doesn’t fulfill its raison d’etre, to bring beautiful music to the home?
The SonoroSTEREO (capitalised for effect rather than acronymity) certainly ticks the ‘superior’ box. As you delve into the packaging you reach the unit itself swathed in a soft bag with branded white gloves on the top (right), the better to keep its high-gloss surface free of fingermarks, not that it seems particularly prone to gather them. The unit is built to a quality we’ve learned to expect from German companies, our review unit minimalist in graphite gloss, sturdy meshed grilles either side of the CD slot and display.
Sonoro makes a point of offering different systems for different rooms of the home (see the different sizes below), and this is the designated living-room system, though it would serve equally well in a study or a large bedroom, if you have the surface space available for its 45cm width and 24cm depth. It uses a rod antenna for DAB+ and FM radio (a strip antenna is also included), so remember to allow space for that to extend one way or another, though we found its tuner highly sensitive and, once tuned, we could run DAB+ reliably with the rod half retracted and tucked neatly behind the unit. We’re in a relatively weak DAB+area, so this was excellent performance, and was also the first thing we heard from the STEREO, since scanning digital radio is the easiest way to set the unit’s clock automatically. And what a sound! Many digital radios can accentuate the format’s abrasive high-end limitations, but this Sonoro is large enough to deliver a full, rich and smooth sound, indeed quite the best we’ve heard in recent years from a tabletop radio.
The only disappointment was that the unit’s nice front knob controls only volume, rather than helpfully shuttling through the long list of digital radio stations, which you have to navigate one press at a time.
FM similarly seems to be auto-search by left-right buttons only (manual tuning is mentioned in literature, but we couldn’t work out how). You can set six presets for each of DAB+ and FM to the buttons on the remote control, speeding access to your favourites.
We settled down to enjoy some Double J on digital, with music underpinned by real bass, and spoken word accurately portrayed by finely balanced mids and treble. The drivers delivering this delight are simple enough — a stereo pair of three-inch full-range drivers to either side, and a four-inch woofer which fires down (sensibly covered by card on delivery; we’ve accidentally fingered those on rivals in the past). The unit’s port also exits through the base, so that we’d recommend keeping the Stereo on a hard surface — not, say, on carpet or thick fabric surface. This keeps up the speed of the bass, which proved able to do punchy stuff when required. Running Up That Hill from the recent live Kate Bush album is a good test of this, and we paired our iPhone easily to the Sonoro’s Bluetooth input to send this over — again the Sonoro gave no indication of the sometime limitations of Bluetooth (aptX is available to those Android phones which support it), the mix emerging with its rapid line of drum kicks cleanly edged and separated, the powerful Omar Hakim-led rhythm section not in the least overwhelming the lush soundscape and vocals above. Very musical, highly enjoyable, and indeed impossible to ignore (presumably Kate wouldn’t want us to ignore it).
All this indicates a good level of power available — Sonoro quotes 20W to each stereo driver and a further 40W to the subwoofer, and this proves enough to maintain the STEREO’s performance even beyond its natural level. We wouldn’t describe it as a party machine, but it certainly stands ready to go loud for those special musical moments. Equally usefully, that woofer continues to underpin a full sound when you have it quiet, compared with many units that just go thin and non-dynamic below a certain level.
Moving to CD offers still greater source quality, and if you’re still spinning the declining silver format, the SonoroSTEREO certainly makes it sing. We played the recent release from Billy Bragg and Joe Henry of old railroad songs recorded during a trip across America. The unit detects the CD as you slide it in and switches to that input automatically, and its replay revealed the background acoustics of waiting rooms and railroad tracks, though to a lesser extent than a larger true stereo hi-fi would deliver; also you had to sit pretty close to get the stereo effect of the panned vocals. With CD we used the tone controls for the first time, nudging bass up and treble down a tad; the guitars were a little too jangly, vocals a little edgy; we decided the inherent balance actually suits Bluetooth’s slight softness best.
And that is, we reckon, how most users today will play music, and the results thereby, and with DAB+ too, are excellent.
Two bonuses — a USB slot round the back can charge a smart device so your Bluetoothing won’t drain it (the remote control is able to control playback of your Bluetooth device), but you can also plug a stick or drive into the back, though navigation is necessarily limited, and favoured filetypes only the basic MP3, AAC and WMAs. Second bonus —
a button on the remote marked ‘Relax’. This cycles through preloaded sound recordings of ocean, whales and water, birdsong (European, we think), rain (torrential, and ironic given the Sydney weather outside at the time), wind chimes (with wind), and crackling fire.
Other sockets round the rear — a stereo output you could use for a recorder or to send the sound to a larger system (it’s fixed level, not controlled by the Sonoro’s volume knob), two auxiliary inputs for additional sources of any kind, and a minijack headphone socket, which would be more useful on the front. The remote here is, incidentally, more sturdy and thick than the weedy credit card-type remotes often provided with such systems. Twin alarms are also available.
Simple but classic, the SonoroSTEREO is an excellent tabletop system well priced, with style and substance. Best of all it’s easy to set playing — indeed from standby, just press DAB or FM and it turns on to your previously selected station. Such a quick and easy start always leads to more use, and more music in the home. And life is so much better that way.
+ Many paths to music
+ Solid sound underpinned by
bass even when playing quiet
+ Good looker
- Minimal stereo separation
- Bluetooth but no networking
Inputs/sources: slot-loading CD, DAB+ & FM radio tuners, Bluetooth with aptX, USB playback (MP3, AAC, WMA), RCA auxiliary in, minijack auxlilary in, ‘Relax’ sounds
Drivers: 2 x 76mm full-range, 1 x 102mm bass
Quoted internal power: 2 x 20W (unspecified THD), 1 x 40W (1% THD)
Outputs: RCA stereo out, headphone out
Dimensions (whd): 450 × 153 x 235mm