If you were looking for a compact hi-fi a few years back you would have had two choices: one of those chunky, plastic, flashing lights-ridden units that looked like unwanted bits of set from Dr Who, or the more elegant brushed metal systems that Denon did so well.
These days, though, there’s a panoply of hi-fi design styles to choose from – and one of the more extreme is Shanling’s MC-30, whose blue lights halo CD playback, MP3 docking, FM radio, valve amplification.
The MC-30 is certainly unusual. And we’re not damning it with faint praise: this smart little unit made from acrylic and aluminium – and embellished with decorative glowing valves and blue lighting – is a real looker.
Build quality is superb for the money: if the MC-30 had been priced at a grand, we’d still have been impressed by its rock-solid construction and fine finish. The metal remote is similarly slick, and puts the efforts of just about every other rival to shame with its quality feel. Sitting on a shelf in your living room, the Shanling is a seriously cool piece of hi-fi.
Shanling describes this unit, in amusingly 1970s fashion, as a ‘music centre’: it’s home to a CD player, amplification and an FM/AM tuner. There’s also what looks like an iPod dock behind the CD mechanism, but it’s simply a cradle. Connecting iPod to MC-30 requires a short 3.5mm-jack lead, but once you do the iPod sits neatly on the Shanling, looking pretty smart.
Unusual it may be, but we love the style of the Shanling. Its only major problem is hinted at by the spec sheet: a claimed power output of just 3 watts per channel. That’s positively titchy, and from our listen is quite a generous estimate to start with.
Either way, this is not a powerful system, so huge sound pressure levels and big dynamic shifts are not on the menu. It sounds great if you use efficient speakers (90dB or above), in a smallish room results at reasonable volume, but if you want to raise the roof you’ll be disappointed.
That said, get past the volume issue and there’s much to admire. This is a sweet and fluid-sounding hi-fi: voices are sweet and real-sounding, and the whole sound from CDs has an articulate and easy flow. The radio is a similar story, though there’s a tiny bit of background hiss even with the best signal.
The MC-30’s a cool and capable little system. If Shanling could up the power without spoiling the sound – and include a DAB tuner, while they’re at it – it might just be the very best at the price.