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Mini stereo system reviews

When you want better sound, it's time get out of the bargain basement
 
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01.Introduction

CH0911_Stereos_lead_

Test results for eight mini stereo systems priced from $849 to $1896

Choosing a mini hi-fi system involves a compromise between price and performance. While there is a level of diminishing returns when determining the best balance between price and audio quality, the willingness to spend will vary from person to person. Some people may be comfortable dishing out $500 on a stylus for their turntable (yes, they still make turntables) while others hesitate at spending any more than that amount for a full home entertainment system. One thing our CHOICE testers can comfortably say after testing many cheap mini/micro stereo systems is that while you may get lots of features, you won’t get great sound for under $400.

When looking at a stereo system for your home, there are a few aspects you should consider. Do you want a system to watch the latest blockbusters in 3D? Or is music your main focus, with the need to deliver good audio while watching the occasional movie on TV?

CHOICE put a range of CD, DVD and Blu-ray stereo systems through their paces, ranging in price from $849 to $1900. All systems allow you to add a sub-woofer to the mix for extra bass when watching movies, except the Bose 3.2.1 system, which has a sub included in the package.

One of the advantages most of the models on test have over many stereo systems under $400 is that the amplifier can comfortably power a pair of efficient good quality speakers, and all the models have the ability to add other devices - such as a PVR, game console or even PC - to the system in the future. 

For more information on Sound, see Home entertainment.

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Models tested

  • MarantzM-CR603
  • DenonDX1000
  • YamahaMCR-840
  • Cambridge Audio SonataDR30+/CD30 (with S30 speakers)
  • DenonDN7
  • OnkyoCS-V645
  • Cambridge AudioOne+ (with minx min 20 speakers and X200 subwoofer)
  • Bose3∙2∙1 GS Series III 

How we test

Ease of use Scott O’Keefe looks at the front panel display and controls, onscreen displays where applicable, radio tuning, ease of setting up and whether the documentation supplied is clear and useful.

• A Listening panel is carried out with each system set up so the speakers are 2m from the listener and at head height. He positions the subwoofer on the floor close to the left front speaker or in the best listening position. He calibrates using a sound meter to ensure the sound levels are the same at the listening position. This assessment determines how well the speakers work together at lower than maximum volume. Three expert panellists then appraise the sound quality when playing stereo sound, DVD surround-sound music and a number of DVD surround-sound movie sequences. In particular, they listen for distortion, how well the subwoofer deals with low frequencies and whether there is a seamless crossover from the speakers to the subwoofer at lower frequencies. They move around to check the size of the “sweet spot” (where the sound balances and sounds best), and assess the ability of the system to localise individual sounds so they appear to be coming from a particular direction. 

Remote control Our tester looks at how well the sizing, spacing, colour-coding and grouping of the keys helps the user distinguish between one operation and another. He also looks at the size of the print on each key and whether any keys are illuminated when operating in low light conditions. The remote should have all the necessary functions for using the system so the user doesn’t need to keep getting up to change settings.

Standby power is measured by connecting the AV receivers to a regulated power supply and power meter, and records standby energy consumption.

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