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2019 Editors’ Choice Awards: Integrated Systems

2019 Editors’ Choice Awards: Integrated Systems

Riva Arena/Festival
$249 (optional Arena battery, $99)/$499
Riva’s two, wireless, multi-room systems in the Wand series offer stunning sound quality from small packages. The compact Arena ($249) and the larger Festival ($499) are both easy to set up and use; just connect via Google, AirPlay, or Bluetooth, and begin streaming music. Both have deeper bass than expected from their compact enclosures, and both play loudly with ease. The Festival is particularly impressive. With 200W of power, a solid wooden case, and a maximum SPL of 106dB, it almost sounds like a pair of floorstanding speakers.

Bluesound Gen2i System
NAD and PSB have teamed up to deliver hi-res, whole-house audio that combines superb sound reproduction with twenty-first-century connectivity. Bluesound comprises five products: the Pulse ($699), Node ($449), Powernode ($699), Vault ($999), and Duo ($999). With them you can now stream hi-res audio up to 192kHz/24-bit throughout your home via WiFi or Ethernet, and control each zone’s source material and volume levels individually or as a whole. There is no need to purchase all products at once—simply add them as needed and expand your whole-house audio system to include up to 34 zones.

Bowers & Wilkins T7
The B&W guys clearly know the musical terrain in this wireless/streaming radio mini segment. The T7 sounds poised and full-bodied with a fluid, rhythmic feel that will truly surpass expectations. Keep in mind that as a Bluetooth device the T7 requires fairly close proximity to the server. I think it should also be said that the T7 proves that portable, wireless speakers can be consistent with high-end values. That, and suitable for take-out too.

Dynaudio Xeo 2
The Xeo 2 is a wireless, internally bi-amplified/DSP speaker system in a svelte two-way cabinet. Less than a foot tall, it projects a bold, confident voice that neither screams with treble lift nor shrinks into the background with presence-range suckouts. It has a dark, warm musical character that makes for soothing long-term listening. Its midrange-forward sound does justice to both male and female vocalists, with high intelligibility and lifelike presence. Connectivity is as easy as pairing with your iPhone BT, and the speaker’s room-adaptive EQ settings are also helpful. In sum, a combination of packaging, performance, and convenience that deserves a receptive audience.

KEF LS50 Wireless
$2199/$2499 (Nocturne edition)
Built to celebrate KEF’s 50th anniversary, the original LS50 monitor spun pure coincident-driver magic thanks to its blushing pink-gold Uni-Q coaxial midrange/tweeter. Visually arresting and sonically satisfying, the LS50 delivered tonal neutrality at just the right pitch, with superb midrange sonics, full-bodied presence, and potent midbass punch. Comes now an “all-in-one” version of this same speaker, the LS50 Wireless, with built-in amplifier, DAC, streaming preamp (Tidal- and Roon-ready), and DSP room-EQ that gives you the same sonics without any need for outboard electronics. The strikingly beautiful, black “Nocturne” version adds circular glow-in-the dark patterns to the enclosure, making for a speaker that looks as stunning as it sounds.

Dali Callisto
$4300 ($4750 with SoundHub and BluOS module)
This compact speaker incorporates DACs and power amplification along with the ability to access music (including hi-res) from your mobile device and stream it to the Callisto. The BluOS module handles networking and streaming, and the SoundHub acts as preamplifier for connecting a range of sources including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LAN, and wired digital and analog, and then sends the selected signal wirelessly to the Callisto. The Callisto is equipped with MQA Core unfolding (but not full MQA decoding). With a flat frequency response (thanks in part to DSP crossovers), wide dynamics, excellent resolution of detail, and deeper bass than is expected from a small bookshelf speaker, the Callisto makes a strong case for an integrated system over component audio at this price.

Dynaudio Focus 60 XD
Dynaudio’s Focus 60 XD, the top model in its line of wireless active digital loudspeakers, is an entirely self-contained audio system, with no need for amplifiers and garden-hose-thick speaker cables. Just connect a source and AC power, and you’re in business. The 60 XD is a slim, tallish floorstander with dual 7″ woofers, a 5.5″ midrange, and a soft-dome tweeter. Bass performance is outstanding, aided by user-adjustable smart digital signal processing. Dynamics are also exceptional for a speaker of this size and price. If the idea of a wireless, self-contained audio system built into a pair of speakers is appealing, the Dynaudio Focus 60 XD is an excellent choice.

Burmester Phase 3 System
Designed for music lovers who aren’t “typical” audiophiles, this unusual all-in-one system adds panache to the solid build-quality and sonics for which the German manufacturer is known. This über-striking three-piece system includes a pair of the company’s B15 loudspeakers along with the digital 161 all-in-one unit that incorporates an integrated amplifier, DAC, server, CD player (plus ripping), and an array of input and outputs. Sound-wise what stood out to JM were solid resolution and impressive transparency plus surprisingly good bass response (depending on source material, natch). If you lack the desire, patience, or space for assembling separate components, and have a taste for the exotic—plus the financial wherewithal—this unique system really does make a bold statement, sonically and aesthetically.

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