It’s going to be a great year for hi-fi. I feel it in my bones.
After a handful of years that were blighted for various reasons, there’s been a sudden influx of new hi-fi parts from countless audio brands hitting the market this year. And I couldn’t be happier.
While many hi-fi manufacturers have moved on to more lifestyle-friendly all-in-one designs in recent years (and rightly so), 2023 kicked off with a big splash for fans of separate boxes for each hi-fi element: Naim and JBL both announced an all-in-one new range of hi-fi electronics CES 2023 in January.
For Naim, that was the premium price NSC 222 streaming preamplifier, NAP 250 power amplifier and NPX 300 power supply. The NAP 250 in particular has been a long time coming – it’s the sixth generation of Naim’s long-running amplifier that has never been out of production since 1975, and one that has been favorably and hugely successful in every generation (we gave it five stars in 2008). For JBL it was a whole new step into the world of individual parts, with its Classic series consisting of the SA550 integrated amplifier, MP350 hi-res music streamer, the first-ever turntable TT350 and a CD player, CD350. With a silver walnut retro design, they look pretty neat too.
JBL will no doubt have seen the new interest in vintage loudspeakers revived with a modern twist – Mission And Wharfedale are key players here, along with those of JBL L100 classic speakers – not to mention the continued popularity of vinyl. But going all-in on a full range of electronics demonstrates a confidence in the hi-fi consumer market that has been lacking in recent years.
And they are not alone. Audiolab has announced its flagship 9000 series (£1999 integrated amp and £999 CD transport) late 2022 to be on sale in 2023 followed very quickly by the announcement of the mid-tier 7000 series (£1099 integrated amp, £549 CD transport and music streamer) in January – both of which I Bristol HiFi Show last weekend. Exposure also announced a new one 3510 series of individual components (integrated amplifier, pre/power and monoblocks), Cyrus said it will revive the popular Classic series (Classic PRE preamp £2595, Classic AMP integrated £1995 and a proposed BluOS-supported music streamer), and Musical Fidelity launched a redesigned high-end NuVista range (all separate, all over £20,000).
And Leema Acoustics is back: the Welsh company resurfaced after a few quiet years to unveil its new Quantum range of electronics, consisting of the Electron CD player, Positron music streamer, Neutron DAC/preamp and Graviton power amp (around £1500 – £1750 each, I’m told). And there are even more that I can’t fit into this list.
Speaking of comebacks, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show was back on our calendar after a three-year absence and despite fears that audiences wouldn’t be too eager to return to the old show (now in its 34th year), it was a vibrant, very well attended weekend. The first two days were absolutely rammed, with some demo rooms filled to the brim and people trying to walk on their toes to see what was being played inside. Manufacturers I spoke to at the show (Dali, Leema, PMC, Rega, Wharfedale and more) were surprised and relieved at the reception and happy to see hi-fi fans back in droves.
2023 also marks the 50th anniversary of some of the most respected, revered British hi-fi brands: Naim, Rega and Linn. Cable maker QED is also celebrating its 50th anniversary, while Leema Acoustics is celebrating its 25th. No wonder everyone is bringing their A-game this year.
Why is all this exciting? Because as useful and enjoyable as all-in-one systems, wireless speakers and the like are, in terms of sheer performance they’re still not a patch on a set of good quality hi-fi parts. Simply put, products that are meant to do just one thing have an advantage over products that have to juggle multiple tasks at once. And given the pedigree of hi-fi brands involved in the 2023 launches, it’s impossible not to eagerly await the quality of performance I could hear. I’ve only gotten into hi-fi (in the right way) in the past decade, but the flow of individual products – be it a stereo amp, a pre/power stack or just a CD player – I’ve seen during my time at Which Hi-Fi? have stayed with me more than a wireless speaker ever could.
Speaking at the UK launch of the Classic series, Naim’s Jason Gould said: “We think if people have better music in their homes, it’s good for you. And you know what, it will broaden your musical horizons like you wouldn’t imagine – because you hear things right. You start listening to music that you have never heard or put the time and attention into.”
Doesn’t that sound great? If you love music and really want to listen to it in the best possible quality (and whatever your budget allows), a system made from high-fidelity parts will perform in a way you’ll never see again.
But now it’s time to address the big elephant in the room: cost. There is no escaping the high cost of some of these products. Naim’s new products start at £5700. JBL’s individual parts are between £799 and £1599, while Audiolab and Cyrus products cost around £1000 to £2000 each. That’s quite a bit to spend on one component and it all adds up – we still need to factor in source, speakers and cabling. When you first start your hi-fi adventure, it can be quite daunting for your bank balance.
Fortunately, there are a handful of budget products on the horizon that offer a greater value proposition, which I’m incredibly excited about. First up is the Mission 778X amplifier – the brand’s first amplifier in almost 40 years! Not only is it exciting to have a new stereo amplifier from an established brand after so long, but it’s also on the market for a very attractive £549.
Cambridge Audio is new MXN10 streamer has also caught my eye with its smaller footprint and £449 price tag. Space-saving and wallet-friendly – those are already two ticks. Pro-Ject also launched a small stereo amplifier with Bluetooth capabilities for £349, the Stereo box S3 BTwhich I’d like to get my hands on while Tangent’s Ampster budget range offers individual parts from £200. There is a shortage of quality products launching for around £500 and under so these budget products are being talked about with as much enthusiasm as the more expensive models in the Which Hi-Fi? office.
Hi-fi is still a luxury for many, but unlike the wider tech world that is evolving far too quickly, hi-fi tends to take time to get right. And it seems that brands have taken their due time with these new separate products. Hi-fi products are also designed to last a few years and become part of your everyday life, allowing you to enjoy music in the best possible quality. Why wouldn’t you want to invest in that?
My colleague Becky suspected that 2023 may be the year of better but smaller hi-fi and audio, and I largely think she’s right (honestly even I can realistically only fit half-width products in my house). Hi-fi parts will probably never reach their 70s and 80s heyday, but I think there’s a good chance we’ll see a blip – a good blip – this year, with full-size loose parts taking center stage in our corner of the market. Tech giants like Apple and Sonos may be making headlines, but I’m confident hi-fi parts will do well this year.
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