Mini hi-fi system reviews

These combination MP3 and legacy music players pack greater punch and more features than speaker docks.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

mini hi-fi lead

Test results for 10 mini hi-fi systems, priced from $99 to $499

Despite the rapid growth of the speaker dock market in the past couple of years, stereos have not shuffled off quietly to the discontinued graveyard. And these stereos are feature-rich compared with speaker docks, some of which are still limited in their functionality. All mini hi-fis on test also have a single CD player, and two play DVDs, with attachments at the rear for a video display, allowing you to use the stereo’s speakers.

Various special effects, which feature in all these stereos, allow you to simulate different listening situations. All are all versatile enough to play various MP3 player brands via USB or auxiliary inputs and, except the Philips, all can play various CD formats and MP3 files, allowing you to burn songs to a CD.

Our listening panel scored these mini hi-fis better than the latest speaker docks. However, despite their advantages, they also fall down in some areas. They all have separate speakers that join to the centre unit with a wire, meaning they're not very portable. They are also heavier than most speaker docks and none comes with battery backup, so they can’t be moved too far away from a mains power source.

Please note: this information was current as of August 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


How we tested

  • Our expert panellists scored score each model for bass, mid-tone and treble response, ease of listening and clarity.
  • They also scored each system’s instruction manual, ease of setting up, remote control, on-board controls and display.
  • Standby energy consumption was also measured.

Models tested

  • DGTEC DG-KW1005IR (A)
  • Grundig DMS601/SAA (A) 
  • JVC CA-UXGP5 (A)
  • LG FB163
  • Panasonic SA-PM38 (A)
  • Philips DC146/79
  • Sharp XL-DK227NH (A)
  • Sharp XL-DK257NH (A)
  • Sony HCD-BX20i (A)
  • Thomson AF3iP

We included the LG MCD23 in our test, but not in the table as it does not have a dock but can play a portable media player through a USB port or line in socket.

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.

 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test.

What to buy
Brand Price
LG FB163 $260
SHARP XL-DK227NH (A) $329
(A) Discontinued, but may be available in some stores.

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

Performance
Brand / model (in rank order)Overall score (%)Sound quality score (%)Ease of use score (%)Standby energy consumption score (%)Price ($)
81 88 66 60 260
Sharp XL-DK227NH (A)
www.sharp.net.au
81 81 70 100 329
Sharp XL-DK257NH (A)
www.sharp.net.au
77 75 70 100 369
Sony HCD-BX20i (A)
www.sony.com.au
75 73 68 100 399
Panasonic SA-PM38 (A)
www.panasonic.com.au
74 75 78 60 299
Grundig DMS601/SAA (A)
www.grundig.net.au
70 82 61 0 499
JVC CA-UXGP5 (A)
www.jvc-australia.com
70 80 71 0 329
Philips DC146/79
www.philips.com
64 69 66 20 180
DGTEC DG-KW1005IR (A)
www.dgtec.com.au
63 74 56 0 499
Thomson AF3iP
www.dse.com.au
62 72 56 0 99
 


 
Features
Specifications
Brand / model (in rank order)Plays DVDsRadio tuneriPod dockLine in socketUSB portSD/MMC slotDimensions (cm, H x W x D) *Weight (kg) **
AM / FM 30 x 30 x 28 11.9
Sharp XL-DK227NH (A)
www.sharp.net.au
AM / FM 26 x 31 x 38 8.0
Sharp XL-DK257NH (A)
www.sharp.net.au
AM / FM 28 x 18 x 38 9.3
Sony HCD-BX20i (A)
www.sony.com.au
AM / FM 25 x 36 x 30 7.3
Panasonic SA-PM38 (A)
www.panasonic.com.au
AM / FM 25 x 30 x 29 6.3
Grundig DMS601/SAA (A)
www.grundig.net.au
AM / FM 27 x 35 x 34 10.1
JVC CA-UXGP5 (A)
www.jvc-australia.com
AM / FM 26 x 33 x 31 5.6
Philips DC146/79
www.philips.com
AM / FM 24 x 29 x 27 21.2
DGTEC DG-KW1005IR
(A) www.dgtec.com.au
FM 22 x 32 x 27 5.6
Thomson AF3iP
www.dse.com.au
AM / FM 21 x 32 x 21 4.4
 

Using the table

Scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Sound quality: 70%
  • Ease of use: 20%
  • Standby energy consumption: 10%

Price Recommended retail, as of September 2010.

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some shops.

* Dimensions include both centre unit and speakers side by side without gaps.

** Weight includes both centre unit and speakers.

How we tested

  • Sound quality Our expert panellists listen to a selection of six different types of music. They score each model for bass, mid-tone and treble response, ease of listening and clarity.
  • Ease of use Our testers score each system’s instruction manual, ease of setting up, remote control, on-board controls and display.
  • Standby energy consumption They use a power meter to measure the energy consumed by the stereo when in standby.

Profiles - What to buy

LG FB163

LG FB 163Price: $260
Sound quality: Very good definition and presence. Good bottom notes, sound response and bass tone. Full-sounding and handles rigours very well. Good balance and brought out percussive elements.

Good points
  • CD and DVD player with component and composite video outputs.
  • Consumes less than 1W on standby if switched to power save mode.
  • USB port.
  • Plays CDs in MP3, WAV and WMA formats.
  • Surround-sound effect.
  • Can record from audio CD to USB in MP3 format.

Bad points

  • Front panel touch volume control is not very responsive.

Sharp XL-DK227NH (A)

Sharp XL-DK227NHPrice: $329

Sound quality: Reasonably bright and pleasant, with clearly defined sounds. Not lots of bass but good voice quality and space.

Good points

  • Easy to use remote control and on-board controls.
  • Consumes less than 1W on standby.
  • Subwoofer output.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 and WMA formats.

Bad points

  • None to mention.

 

Profiles - The rest

Sharp XL-DK257NH (A)

Sharp XLDK257Price: $369

Sound quality: Lead vocal is clear with good balance, mid-range is a bit muddy. Bass, while present, is not well defined.

Good points

  • Good sound quality.
  • Easy to use remote and on-board controls.
  • Consumes less than 1W on standby.
  • Subwoofer output, for example to an amplified subwoofer.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 and WMA formats.

Bad points

  • None to mention.

Sony HCD-BX20i (A)

Sony HCD-BX20iPrice: $399

Sound quality: A diminished sense of space and more low to mid-frequency presence. Smooth sound although not much bottom end and depth.

Good points

  • Good sound quality.
  • Easy to use on-board controls.
  • Consumes less than 1W on standby.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 format.
  • Surround-sound effect.

Bad points

  • No preset equalisation choices.
  • No bass enhancement function.

Panasonic SA-PM38 (A)

Panasonic SA PM38Price: $299

Sound quality: Good clear sound, pretty good tone and sense of space. Not much bottom end or bass in general.

Good points

  • Good sound quality.
  • Very easy to use remote control and easy to use on-board controls.
  • Consumes less than 1W on standby.
  • USB port.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 format.
  • Surround-sound effect.

Bad points

  • No line in socket for plugging in an external analogue sound source.

Grundig DMS601/SAA (A)

Grundig DMS601SAAPrice: $499

Sound quality: A good vocal definition complemented with a bright sound.

Good points

  • Very good sound quality.
  • Easy to use on-board controls.
  • CD and DVD player with component, S-video and composite video outputs.
  • Line out socket for connecting to an external sound system.
  • USB port.
  • SD/MMC slot.
  • Subwoofer output, for example to an amplified subwoofer.
  • Digital audio optical output for connecting to an external sound system.
  • Plays CDs in MP3, WAV and WMA formats.

Bad points

  • Keys on remote are well spaced but small, and most are indistinct in a grid layout.

JVC CA-UXGP5 (A)

JVC CA UXGP5Price: $329

Sound quality: Rich vocal presence, full sounding with a good frequency range.

Good points

  • Very good sound quality. 
  • Easy to use remote and on-board controls.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 and WMA formats.
  • Surround-sound effect.

Bad points

  • No preset equalisation choices.

Philips DC146/79

Philips DC14679Price: $180

Sound quality: A very low level, which lacks body. It has very soft volume but nice tones. Not much bass.

Good points

  • Good sound quality.
  • Easy to use on-board controls.

Bad points

  • The earphones/headphones socket is at the rear of the main unit.
  • Unable to play CDs in MP3, WAV or WMA format.
  • No bass and treble controls or preset equalisation choices.

DGTEC DG-KW1005IR (A)

Digitec DG KW1005IRPrice: $499

Sound quality: While it has a reasonable sense of space, the rhythm is murky and it lacks bass.

Good points

  • Good sound quality.
  • USB port.
  • SD/MMC slot.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 and WMA formats.
  • LAN port and Wi-Fi, and can play music files stored on a PC.
  • Internet radio.

Bad points

  • Does not have an AM radio.

Thomson AF3iP

Thompson AF3iPPrice: $99

Sound quality: Distorts a bit at the lower end and sounds tinny. Sounds a bit hard and there is not much depth. There is good stereo separation but lacks space and dynamics.
Good points

  • Good sound quality.
  • USB port.
  • SD/MMC slot.
  • Plays CDs in MP3 and WMA formats.

Bad points

  • Most remote control keys are small and indistinct in a grid layout.
  • Main unit slides (too lightweight) when a control is pressed.

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.

  • Line-in/USB/aux connection This allows access for external devices such as an MP3 player or laptop. 
  • Remote control should be easy to read, with large, well-spaced buttons and clear labels.
  • Memory cards such as SD or MMC can be slotted into some stereos to provide direct access to music.
    These are often used in mobile phones for additional storage and so could be used to transport your music collection from phone to stereo.
  • AM/FM radio Not all stereos come with both.
  • Headphone input All models on test have one and it allows for private listening, whether for you or your children.
  • Clock/alarm function All stereos on test have one, which can be useful if you have the stereo in your bedroom.

What to look for

LG MCD23

LG MCD23We included the LG MCD23 in our test, but not in the table as it does not have a dock but can play a portable media player through a USB port or line in socket. It also has a cassette deck – an increasingly rare function – and features cassette recording to MP3 format from line in, USB, cassette or radio, as well as a three-disc CD player.

The system has good sound quality and scored 79% overall. Its main disadvantage is that when an MP3 player is connected via USB it does not recharge as it would in a dedicated dock.

Your say - Choice voice

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