Antelope Audio Rubicon DAC (Current, US$40,000)
Look, no beating about the bush – this is an atomic hi-fi component. No, there isn’t a Mr Fusion hanging off the back of Antelope Audio’s Rubicon, which combines a DAC with an analogue-to-digital conversion and a preamplifier, but it is controlled by Antelope’s 10M Rubidium atomic clock, claimed to be 100,000 times more stable than the crystal oscillator you’ll find in a traditional DAC or CD player. It’ll handle the highest-resolution audio out there at the moment, and – well, just clock the way it looks. Flash Gordon meets 1950s chrome, anyone?
Denon D-M39DAB (Current, £360)
OK, so it’s an unassuming-looking little micro system, combining a CD player, DAB/DAB+/FM tuner and amplifier in a single box just 21cm wide, but there are two significant things about the D-M39. One is that it comes from a company with an enviable track record in systems such as this, having more or less invented the micro hi-fi idea; the other is that the system sounds particularly fab, especially when you ditch the optional speakers and use the RCD-M39 CD receiver with some decent big boxes.
More after the break...
Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 9000 (1996-present, £3000)
Audio systems don’t get much more iconic than this, Bang & Olufsen’s striking six-disc player: for a while all TV and movie art directors needed to say ‘this character is a) minted and b) quietly sophisticated’ was a BeoSound 9000 lurking somewhere in the background.
It can be used on its dedicated monopole stand, or mounted horizontally or vertically on the wall, and if visitors aren’t impressed by your subtle Scandi-cool, you can always tell them that the CD player is designed always to stop discs in an upright position for easy reading, and that the shuttle accelerates faster than a Ferrari. You probably have one of those, too – in case you need to prove the point.
Linn Sondek LP12 (1972-present, £2700)
Classic, and more than reassuringly expensive, the Linn Sondek LP12 has been with us for more than 40 years now – a history marked by a recent limited edition, complete with a plinth made from wood recycled from whisky barrels, marking four decades of the company. Selling for £24,000, the run of 40 turntables were snapped up by Linn's dealers and distributors for their customers almost instantly, demonstrating the classic status of the LP12.
This is the model on which Glasgow-based Linn built its business. And a degree of building is required by LP12 owners: while you can buy a Majik LP12 around £2000, that price is just for the turntable itself - the motor unit on which you put the record. Complete with arm and cartridge it will set you back £2700, and a full-house current-spec turntable, incorporating all the upgrades made over the years, could easily set you back getting on for £18,000.
Setting up and adjusting a full-whack LP12 to deliver its full potential has taken on the aura of a 'black art', with the services of those who've mastered it very much sought-after. It's (relatively) easy to make one sound good; making one sound amazing is where the skill comes in.
Ray Dolby (1933-2013)
Not a product, but a whole raft of technologies – developed to change the way we listen by a man who’d much rather have been tinkering under the bonnet of a car or fettling his private aeroplane.
Ray Dolby worked on the original technology behind video recording, invented the noise reduction systems making possible multitracking and overdubbing in the studios of the 70s – so he’s probably sort of to blame for prog rock! – and turned the humble compact cassette into a hi-fi recording system.
And then, as if all that wasn’t enough, he came up with Dolby Stereo, which kicked off the boom in surround sound in the cinema, and later in the home with Dolby Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital and currently Dolby TrueHD. And coming soon to a cinema near you, Dolby Atmos, capable of no fewer than 128 audio channels!