How many do you need?
Do you still remember those fearsome compact systems in the 1980s, which enabled you to carpet-blast both your teenager’s room and the basement party room with sound? Good that those days are gone now. Modern compact systems have nothing in common with those bellow-boxes of the past.
If it’s a great sound and ease of handling you’re after and if you or your partner are not keen on full-to-the-gills phono furniture, then a multi-functional system not only makes value-for-money sense, but is also a very worthwhile purchase from a hi-fi perspective. And the choice of equipment featuring so many different functionalities and designs has never been as wide as it is today. Irrespective of whether you’re looking for a receiver with CD-drive and built-in hard-disk or a streamer with USB-hub and digital iPod-dock, you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for. Thanks to Class D amplifier technology, even really small pieces of kit can produce a surprisingly full-bodied, neutral and crisp sound, given they operate at higher levels of energy efficiency. Our tip: Think carefully about what sources you want to use and specifically select the device you want based on those criteria. The fewer unnecessary bells and whistles you pay for, the greater the likelihood that you will be more satisfied with the sound delivered within any given same price category.
Things look a little different if you regard a hi-fi system as work in progress. If you start with a decent entry-level system, but want to scale the audiophile heights by gradually replacing individual hi-fi components, you are definitely recommended to purchase individual components.
Of course compromises are also available: nearly all multi-functional systems offer, for example, a pre-out. This means you can always buy a more premium power amp at a later stage and integrate your existing set-up. Or you can even loop in a premium-caliber external DAC at a later stage.
Conclusion: Don’t buy the first piece of equipment that you come across, even if the test reports make a fantastic read. Instead just ask yourself this short but hackneyed job-interview question: “Where do I see myself at in 3 years time?”