Arcam has done a particularly good job of extending its Solo sub-brand. Starting with the original Solo model, we've now had a movie-playing version, the Solo Movie; an internet-streaming variant, the Solo Neo; and this, the compact version.
Although its high price tag may raise a cynical eyebrow among potential buyers - The features undoubtedly make up for the initial high mark up cost.
Sound Quality: The sound quality from this piece of hardware was, quite literally, the best I've encountered. The only real rival would be an apple product (like the iPod) on its own. However even then the Arcam Solo simply blows it out of the water even as a sound dock.
Quality Of Finish: The construction is that of brushed aluminium panels. The structure is sturdy and feels like it could take some considerable knocks, unlike the plastic cases that so many of its rivals are made of.
Features: Of course the Arcam Solo Mini's main advantage is its features. The Arcam Solo will play back CDs via an easy to use slot in the front, has an integrated amplifier, obligatory AM and FM radio tuners, and bang-up-to-date DAB radio receiver coupled with an alarm clock feature (should you need to wake up early to work off the price)!
I was quite sad when my old Technics stereo system finally conked out (I calculated that I'd had it for between twelve and fifteen years though, so it had a pretty good run.) Of course, the bright side was that it was now time to go shopping again, yay! My brother (resident expert on all things music and technology related) sent me a link to the Arcam Mini solo, saying he had some Arcam amps and speakers which sounded fantastic, although he figured it might be a bit more than I wanted to spend. It was too late - I was in love.
The Arcam Mini solo is quite a dinky little system; a compact silver box which is roughly 23cm wide and just 9cm tall. It costs about £599, but you will need to buy speakers separately. I got mine as a package deal (with Arcam speakers included) for £750 from John Lewis. Unfortunately they are no longer running this offer, but if you shop around you should be able to get a comparable price. I know £750 sounds like an insane amount of money to spend (my friends thought I was mad) but this is WORTH IT.
I did my research before investing in such a pricey piece of kit - not only do Arcam get great reviews from buyers, this system has also won numerous awards. These include various categories (including best overall system) in What Hifi in 2008, 2009, and 2010. (You'll notice it's been around for a while, so you won't get cutting edge technology. But sound quality is always in fashion...)
The official specifications:
* Integrated CD, radio, stereo amplifier
* CD or MP3 playback from CD discs
* 2 x 25wpc linear amplifiers
* Internal DAB/FM/AM or FM/AM radio tuner (market dependant)
* Integrated iPod control via optional rLead/rDock
* Front panel USB input for additional media
* Six additional analogue inputs (5x RCA rear, 1x 3.5mm jack front)
* Alarm clock with "wake to" CD/Tuner/Alarm
* Remote control
* Full IR and RS232 serial control
It's an impressive list - I especially like the fact that you can plug in anything that has a USB cable. With my addiction to Spotify, it's amazing for me to be able to play music that I don't actually own on CD. It also makes up for the fact that there isn't a streaming facility on this stereo (something that is becoming standard with more recently released high-end systems).
Negatives? Well, if there's one more thing I'd like, it's the ability to load up several CDs at once. With all the other luxurious aspects of this player, it's surprising that you still have to get out of bed (or, um, get up from your chair) to change the CD you're listening to. And one more thing - this is really petty, but... when you turn the system on / put a CD in, it takes a few seconds to get itself ready to go. This means I tend to hover over it waiting for the moment I can press Play and start enjoying the music. I probably wouldn't have noticed this if it wasn't significantly (well, 2 or 3 seconds) slower than my old system, but it would be nice if it was faster.
The Mini solo is very easy to use - everything is self explanatory. You slide CDs into a slot, so there is no flimsy little shelf. It has options to play CDs on repeat (useful if you ever feel the need to listen to your favourite new album constantly for hours on end, and you're too lazy to keep pressing play) as well as repeating specific tracks, shuffling, etc.
I tend not to listen to the radio (all the annoying chatter! Play MUSIC!) but this stereo has DAB / FM / AM radio and room for 70 presets across the board, so there are plenty of options if you're an advert-avoiding channel hopper.
Of course, the most important part is the sound; this is where you realise that your expensive stereo was worth every penny. The sound quality is SUPERB. (This is especially apparent if you listen to music that you have often heard on inferior systems - the first time I listened to a Pink album, it sounded completely different to the tinny, compressed version I've heard so often on TV.) Whatever your musical taste, you are guaranteed to hear every strand of intricate vocal arrangements, enjoy deliciously deep and clean bass, and appreciate incredible clarity in every detail. In short, everything sounds amazing. (Unfortunately for your neighbours, the louder it is, the better. I am, of course, a respectful neighbour and keep volume to a reasonable level, but I actually feel vaguely nauseous if I listen to music really quietly. I think it's a kind of Pavlovian response to all those car journeys in which music was my only distraction from travel sickness, and my parents always played the radio at BARELY audible levels.)
Overall, this is a somewhat expensive system, but it looks chic, sounds incredible, and has hordes of happy customers to recommend it. Including me.