FIRST TESTS STEREO SPEAKERS > SMARTPHONE
Acoustic Energy Compact 1 | Stereo speakers | £150
Baby speakers have seriously grown-up sound
Without a point of reference it can be hard to work out the size of products from the picture, so we’ll start by saying these are very compact speakers, measuring just 22cm tall, 15cm wide and 20cm deep.
Those dinky dimensions mean the Compact 1s will fit just about anywhere you want, and while they sound their very best when placed on stands with some space
USE IT WITH
Denon D-M38 You can pick this micro up for £200 without Denon’s speakers, and the AEs will make it sing around them, they’re still pretty tonally consistent and controlled in the bass if you cram them into a corner or mount them on the wall using the built-in bracket.
Easy-going and enjoyable sound As with everything we test, we’ve listened to a heck of a lot of different music through these speakers, and we can safely say they’re impressively consistent. There’s a fluidity and maturity that lets your music flow smoothly, and a seamless tonal range that means neither the bass nor treble ever sticks out more than it should.
This fluid, easy-going style lends itself best to acoustic numbers such as Bonnie Prince Billie’s Wolf Among Wolves or stripped-down classical like Bach’s Suite No.1 for solo cello, but here we started to notice a slight lack of detail, drive and dynamics compared with the best at this price. Those minor gripes are brought further to the fore by a switch to more beats-driven music, with Little Dragon’s Ritual Union lacking the excitement, nuance and downright fun that a speaker such as the Dali Zensor 1 can produce.
That’s not to say we’re not keen on the Compact 1s. On the contrary, we entirely appreciate the excellent build quality and looks that effortlessly combine cuteness and seriousness. Their grown-up, easy-going approach will please a lot of listeners, especially those looking to temper a slightly aggressive or excitable hi-fi. If space or cash is tight, hear these.
FOR Lovely styling and excellent build; flexible over positioning; mature, fluid, balanced sound
AGAINST Don’t give you the detail, dynamics or definition that some rivals do
VERDICT A great blend of compact, stylish looks and grown-up performance
Also consider Dali Zensor 1 £180 ★★★★★ Slightly bigger and slightly pricier, these Dalis are well worth the extra money
HTC Sensation | Smartphone | From £free
Fast, smart Sensation sounds better than it looks
The HTC Sensation is the company’s latest ‘multimedia superphone’ but you’d be forgiven for being underwhelmed at first. The 4.3in, 960 x 640 screen is striking, but the chassis lacks the premium feel of rivals.
Things get much more exciting in action. The animated, colourful screen looks great: scroll to the left and right and you’ll find seven pages of customisable content.
Rent movies on your phone The HTC Sense interface is rapid. The 1.2 GHz dual core processor clearly plays its part, making for a smooth experience when it comes to navigating the phone’s features.
And they’re myriad. You’ll find front and back cameras (and you can shoot HD video), 1GB memory expandable by SD card, the Android Market for apps such as Spotify and iPlayer, Flash web browsing, DLNA streaming and HTC Watch, a movie rental service.
With prices from £2.49 to £4.49 to rent, or closer to £9.99 to buy (which seems expensive), it’s a great perk and something that rival Android handsets don’t offer.
That said, the video quality (it supports the most popular formats) of the Sensation could be better. It struggles to find detail in dark scenes and edges are drawn more sharply by rival handsets. We think the comparatively huge, 16:9 screen could be put to better use.
Sonically it’s in much better shape, (though there’s no FLAC, WAV or lossless file support), sounding lively, detailed and clear, if lacking the weight and bass presence of the best handsets we’ve heard.
We like this new HTC but it’s not quite the Sensation we hoped it might be.
FOR Fast interface; plentiful features including DLNA and video rental service; sounds good.
AGAINST Video performance could be better; only 1GB internal memory as standard
VERDICT Fast, feature-packed smartphone that sounds good but could look better
Also consider Samsung Galaxy S II From £free ★★★★★ The original Galaxy was our favourite smartphone of 2010 and this latest incarnation is even better.
Despite its huge, 16:9 screen the HTC can be beaten for video thrills 24in TV < HEADPHONES < MAINS CABLE FIRST TESTS
Panasonic TX-L24E3 | Television | £450
Big-screen performance from Panasonic’s small-room TV
There are some firsts here. This is the first Full HD, 1920 x 1080 screen we’ve tested that’s smaller than 32in; it’s the first 24in screen we’ve ever tested (though it’s unlikely to be the last); and when you calculate the price-to-size ratio, this is one of the priciest TVs of any kind we’ve seen.
But like Sony’s £380 KDL-26EX320 (four stars last month), the L24E3’s spec goes some way towards justifying what looks, at first glance, an optimistic price-tag. There’s that Full HD resolution, obviously, but LED backlighting, Freeview HD, an SD-card reader and Ethernet all add to its appeal.
prodigious detail levels and deft way with skin-tones and textures all contribute to a brilliantly watchable picture. And that’s before excellent motion tracking and a wide-ranging colour palette are factored in.
Freeview HD images are pleasing, and the L24E3 does good work downscaling DVDs too. Sound is reasonable, all things considered, and fights sibilance well.
Noticeably detailed – even at this size The diminutive screen size doesn’t dictate anything less than the full Panasonic treatment, though, so between the logical on-screen menus and remote, the L24E3 is ready to go in next to no time.
And with a Blu-ray of True Grit to display, it looks splendid. We’d always suspected that the difference between 1920 x 1080 and, say, 1366 x 768 resolution would be negligible at this size, but that’s not the case – the deep, detailed blacks, strong contrasts,
Viera Connect isn’t on the menu, but you can stream content from your own network
The Panasonic’s ability to access a home network is another of the its big advantages over its less expensive rivals – though it would be bigger still if the TX-L24E3 didn’t need hard-wiring – and the ‘game’ mode means its reactions are fast enough to satisfy the bedroom gamer.
All in all, then, this is a little belter for those than can afford it.
FOR Extensive spec; deeply impressive images from all sources; inoﬀensive sound
AGAINST Not cheap; wi-fi would make it sweeter still
VERDICT Small but perfectly formed, the Panasonic is a tremendous tiny telly
Also consider Sony KDL-26EX320 £380 ★★★★ Online features, wi-fi and great looks compensate for the rather dim images
AKGK540 | Headphones | £90
Semi-closed ’phones openly beaten
We rather liked these AKGs the moment we saw them. That concentric arrangement on the ear cups is a stylish touch that means you’ll be confident wearing them out of the house, but they’ve balanced that with some nice traditional flourishes, too.
The semi-open design leaks very little, so if you did want to wear them out and about you’re unlikely to upset anyone. However, the astonishingly lengthy (3m) lead indicates that these are first and foremost for use with a hi-fi at home, and there’s a 6.3mm adapter in the box for just that.
If the design seems like a halfway house between open and closed, the sound does, too, and unfortunately not in a good way. Compared with hi-fi cans like the Grado SR80is the K540s lack openness, detail and dynamics, and next to a portable pair such as the Audio-Technica ATH-ES55s they lack attack, crispness and bass weight. They’re also a tad harsh at the top end.
It’s a shame, because we like the design, and they fit superbly, too. Aside from that bit of brightness they’re also pretty tonally even and detailed in their own right.
But, there’s no getting around it: the K450s seem to try and cater for all tastes, but they don’t entirely satisfy any.
FOR Serious but stylish design; semi-open design lends flexibility; reasonably detailed
AGAINST They lack the detail and openness of the best headphones at this price
VERDICT We like them, but dedicated portable or dedicated hi-fi cans will get you better sound
Clearer AudioCopper-line AlphaOne Mains cable | £40
Great upgrade, upgraded
We last saw this budget mains cable back in May 2009, when it garnered a five-star accolade. Since then, Clearer Audio has made a few tweaks to improve connections and noise and the price has increased by – wait for it – £4.
This is one of those times where the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ needed to be adhered to, but thankfully the Copper-line Alpha One remains a potent accessory, allowing our reference kit to impart extra weight, dynamics and detail.
At this price there’s very little not to like, and those with kit under the £500 bracket are recommended to seek out this small but supremely competent upgrade.
Want to try before you buy? Clearer Audio oﬀers a 60 day money-back deal
VERDICT If you’re looking for a budget system booster, you should try the Copper-line Alpha One www.whathifi.com 11