The Highline 300’s performance is accomplished on many levels, bringing the sort of sonic poise and insight you’d expect when forking out over £2k on a system, although it may not appeal to everyone.
With Blu-ray soundtracks, the clarity of subtle sonic minutiae is key and the Highline 300 certainly passes muster on that score. It pulls out all the detail from The Empire Strikes Back on Blu-ray and gives those familiar effects a new lease of life.
When fed with a feisty action scene, the system retains its composure brilliantly, even when you crank up the volume. The sounds of fizzing blasters, bleeping droids and screeching Mynocks are shaped with effortless crispness and lucidity by these masterful drivers.
During Luke and Vader’s iconic Cloud City duel, the drama is palpable – the humming, crackling lightsabers are aggressive yet nicely controlled. Effects ping from speaker to speaker at a rapid pace, and the nimble subwoofer underpins the action with taut, solid low frequencies.
The use of identical drivers across the entire system pays dividends too. Surround sound information shares the same emphatic clarity as the fronts, bringing depth and immersion to scenes that need it, like the background hustle and bustle of the Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base on Hoth.
Speech reproduction throughout the movie is excellent, making the dialogue that George can type but Harrison can’t say sound clear and convincing. James Earl Jones’ Vader voice has a clearly-defined gruffness and depth that could be turned into a thick, muddy mess in the wrong hands.
So what’s our reservation? Well the Highline system could do with being a little bit more boisterous. Yes high-frequency detail is beautifully shaped, it’s cohesive and energetic, but a touch too polite to really get the pulse racing, particularly when compared with some of its more muscular rivals in this price bracket.
This refinement and composure is by no means a bad thing, but some listeners may prefer a system that’s not afraid to let its hair down. It’s like paying money to watch Serena Williams and Laura Robson turning up instead. Good looking, technically impressive but lacking muscle.
Thankfully this polished sound lends itself brilliantly to music playback. There’s a captivating transparency and spaciousness about its presentation of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue that draws you in and won’t let go, plus the smooth sax and trumpet lines, delicate drums and agile double bass presentation are hallmarks of a very accomplished musical performer.
The Arena Highline 300 system is a beautifully built, achingly stylish system that delivers a sophisticated, detailed and coherent sound. It doesn’t reach the sort of adrenalin-fuelled mayhem that some systems in this price range achieve, but if you covet finesse over firepower then this might be the system for you.
N.B. The quoted price of £2,200 includes 5 x Highline 300 HCR, the TS300 subwoofer and 2 x pairs of Highline stands