1st Place: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
We were pretty excited when we first heard about the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin at the tail end of last year. B&W's reputation in the speaker market is legendary, so news of the company bringing its first iPod speaker dock to market had us waiting with baited breath. Thankfully we weren't disappointed.
The Zeppelin is, quite simply, the best iPod speaker dock on the planet, by a significant margin. B&W's extensive experience in loudspeakers shines through the minute you start playing your music - this thing sounds absolutely, staggeringly good. In fact it's hard to believe that music from an iPod could sound so good.
But even though the sound is sublime, the aesthetic design is also first rate. The Zeppelin looks fantastic, and will enhance any room in which you place one. The curvaceous lines and solid metal docking arm meld together to create a thing of beauty. While the iPod dock itself is a triumph of practical design too, being able to accept any kind of iPod without any need for adapters.
In this modern generation of digital music, stored on portable players, fewer and fewer consumers are bothering to buy a proper hi-fi and build a CD collection. But at least if you splash out on a Zeppelin, you don't have to compromise on quality.
2nd Place: Arcam Solo Mini
Arcam has long been the champion of affordable audiophile equipment. It's true that Arcam kit could never be described as cheap, but compared to equipment offering similar sound quality, it's relatively inexpensive. The Solo Mini just highlights how Arcam offers feature packed, audiophile grade products that we can all aspire to own. And just like everything Arcam makes, it looks beautiful as well as sounding beautiful.
The Solo Mini is an all-in-one hi-fi complete with CD player, 25W amplifier, FM/AM tuner, DAB tuner and even clock radio functions. You can also get an optional iPod dock - the rDock - to connect to the Solo Mini for ultimate versatility. The rDock is as beautifully and solidly built as the Solo Mini itself, and even lets you decide whether or not to charge your iPod while it's docked - switching off charging can potentially result in a cleaner audio signal.
Many would argue that bundling everything into a single box is heresy, and that the Solo Mini could never be described as an audiophile product - but they'd be wrong. Whatever shielding Arcam employs inside the Solo Mini, it definitely works. There's not the slightest hint of interference from any of the internal components, and when your music calls for silence, that's exactly what you'll get. If you want to take that first step into the world of serious hi-fi, the Solo Mini should be high on your list.
3rd Place: Sonos BU150 Wireless Digital Music System
When it comes to wireless music streaming systems, Sonos sits at the top of the tree. Not only does Sonos make great components that work flawlessly together, but they're also packed with features and incredibly simple to use. The Sonos remote control may have been around for a few years, but it's still a joy to use and even a complete novice can pick it up and start using it in seconds.
This latest Sonos bundle incorporates MIMO wireless technology, which means that the range is increased, and the system can also handle houses with solid walls far better - which is good news for us in the UK. Setup is a breeze and within minutes you'll be up, running and listening. Music can be streamed from a PC, a NAS appliance or even over the Internet.
Sonos supports Napster, so you can sign up and have access to millions of songs at the touch of a button, from anywhere in your house. There's also Last.FM support now, giving you a choice of streaming services. But the best part of the BU150 bundle is how affordable it is. Sonos installs used to be the things that most of us dreamt about but couldn't afford - now you can start streaming music to every room in your home without breaking the bank.