Eager to crack on, I put on my recording of Mozart’s ”Requiem” and was not disappointed. Many music systems I’ve listened to simply can’t cope with the complexity of so many high-pitched, powerful voices singing all at once, but the Mini recreated the phalanx of vocals with hair-raising accuracy.
Imaging was brilliant, detail capture superb and bass notes always kept tightly in control. My own music system is, all told, around three times as expensive as the Mini. But the difference in sound quality is very small indeed. The Mini only lacks for sheer grunt and a little extra sparkle.
With a few albums ripped to Apple Lossless I set about comparing the rDock setup to direct CD playback, and I was very impressed. Music played in this way doesn’t quite have the life, verve and precision as when it’s played from the original CD, but it’s still very, very good – better than any iPod-based hi-fi system I’ve ever had the opportunity to listen to.
The only downside to all this quality is that it ruthlessly exposes poor quality recordings and, here, the low quality of the DAB transmissions you can pick up on the Solo Mini’s integrated DAB tuner. Still, there’s always the FM tuner, which with a solid reception provides much better audio quality.
And if you haven’t already bought a pair of speakers to go with the Mini, I can also recommend Arcam’s own Muso speakers. I was supplied a pair of these four-ohm speakers for the test and I can vouch for their quality. They’re front ported – so quite flexible in terms of where you place them – and are solidly built from bits of thick, rigid cast aluminium. I stuck them on top of my Target K-Series stands and they performed admirably, producing balanced and pure sound without ever sounding strained or running out of puff. The small size belies the sheer quality of these speakers.
Of course, if you already own a decent pair of speakers, you should probably try them with the Mini before you upgrade. You may find that its highly capable amp will wring new life from what you thought were tired old drivers.
The Solo Mini may look expensive on paper, but the features on offer and the quality it demonstrates are, in fact, well beyond its humble price tag. £770 for such a high-quality amp, CD player and one of the best iPod dock systems around is an absolute bargain in my humble opinion. Add the Muso speakers for another £280 and you have yourself a complete, high-end stereo system for just a few quid over a grand.
In short, if you love your music, want to combine high quality sound with a touch of iPod convenience and the elegance and minimalism of a simple one-box hi-fi system, you should spend your money on one of these. It’s brilliant.
Score in detail