Hi-fi heads can get dangerously involved in the specifics of music systems – the audio boards, the power supply, the chemical make-up of the casework – but those in the market for micro systems want to know two things. Is it discreet and sexy, and does it sound good?

The Onkyo CS-515 has proven pedigree in both of these fields, having been our favourite micro-system from last year along with the Yamaha M170. You can buy it without speakers for £230, but our unit came with Onkyo’s rather attractive pair, which easily sit on bookshelves and blend in with any surroundings well.

Class-leading sound

So, the looks box has been checked, but how about the sound? Again, a great big tick can be chalked next to the CS-515’s name, because it doesn’t half sound the business.

It might be tempting to add your own more expensive speakers to the main unit but we’re not sure it’s worth it: the supplied speakers are an articulate, punchy little pair, and getting the whole system for £300 puts it firmly in bargain territory.

Keeping things simple

Despite a steady stream of new competition, nothing we’ve tested this year has even come close to beating this system. Okay, some similarly-priced new kids on the block – the Sony CMT-U1BT and Panasonic SC-PMX2, for example – have rocked up to the party packing features galore like revellers with beer crates, but the one thing they’ve all manifestly failed to do is sound better than this Onkyo. Try as they might, they just can’t do it.

Separates rival

The fact is, you could spend a little more money – and ruin the design scheme of your lounge – by investing in a budget set of hi-fi separates, but the CS-515DAB would still give your cumbersome new friends a run for their sonic money.

It has depth, space and an unusually solid and revealing way with voices that you normally don’t hear at this price. There’s also a DAB, FM and MW radio and MP3 compatibility. Add some seriously tight and punchy bass into the mix, and you’ve got a hi-fi that does pretty much everything you’ll ever ask of it – and all without upsetting your partner or bank manager.

Stuff says... 

Onkyo CS-515DAB review

A smart unit plus great speakers equals a really musical micro. Compact hi-fi doesn’t come any better than this