Everything from nothing – or so it seems. We expect a hi-fi system to be big, something with a few decent control knobs fit for a human hand and a bit of biological intervention! FiiO's M9 portable player I review this month – see p25 – starts to call this into question. It does most things except replay LP. You might think it won't drive loudspeakers, but it will drive powered Bluetooth loudspeakers.
The tiny M9 and other Digital Audio Players like it flooding out of China and Korea are increasingly able to do much of what a full size system does – but are a fiddle to use. Being small, their touch screens have tiny text and touch-areas purposed for pixies – no good for fingers like mine. But in News this month – see p7 – we reveal a voice activated loudspeaker from Klipsch and this raises the subject of Apple's voice activated loudspeaker that, with its microphones, tunes itself to your room, accepts voice commands and can speak back via Siri.
Will we see speech control like this brought to portables; could we soon see a mini hi-fi little larger than the M9, one that is speech controlled? Feeding self powered loudspeakers via Bluetooth, such a system is possible right now. FiiO's tiny M9 can be seen as a forerunner in effect.
In future full size audio systems of the sort you can interact with may be increasingly challenged by portable, battery powered and Bluetooth connected mini-players. Feats of micro-miniaturization, they will be mass produced in the Far East by machines, cost little, and be unrepairable – just like a mobile 'phone. It's an interesting – perhaps depressing – prospect.
But then again Audiolab's new 6000A amplifier, reviewed on p14 by Jon Myles, represents the other side of the coin. A full size hi-fi unit with digital ability including Bluetooth on board, at a price little higher than a portable. Keeping power down to a more than adequate 65 Watts (6 Ohms) keeps both cost and size in check, whilst providing full hi-fi quality from a traditional Class A/B amplifier and linear power supply.
Audiolab again – this time the one once made in Britain. I'm talking about the ubiquitous 8000A. It's still available second-hand, it's repairable – and Martin Pipe tells you so much more about it on p59. Oh yes, and it costs less than any portable player!
As always we cover the expensive to the cheap in another great issue. I hope you enjoy it.