The days of the mighty Hi-Fi tower look numbered. With the smaller iPod docks and mini Hi-Fis undermining their once sturdy foundations, could we see the larger systems topple? With many people seeming to favour space and convenience over the weighty power of the big kit, the audio Goliath could be beaten by the little players.

We shouldn’t be too fast to write the bulkier systems and separates off just yet; they’ve got a secret weapon up their sleeves which gives them a great tactical advantage as centrepiece of the home entertainment system. We’ll guide you past the propaganda to show you the real strengths and weaknesses of both sides.

The Knowhow

Docking systems:

  • Docking stations can be bought with or without speakers; versions without speakers are designed to be connected to Hi-Fi systems
  • Designed to connect straight to iPod
  • Models with speakers function as mini hi-fis; features will vary, but many can also play CDs and radio
  • Many models are compact and light enough to be moved around easily
  • Prices range from tens to hundreds of pounds
  • Styles are more often modern than "classic"
  • Lower-end models may be available in novelty designs, such as cute animals or cartoon characters
  • Some models feature additional connections; for example, output to TV

Mini Hi-Fi systems:

  • Compact, all-in-one, sound systems
  • Features will vary, but can contain CD players, DAB radio and iPod docks
  • Prices range from tens to hundreds of pounds
  • May have additional inputs and outputs, according to model
  • Often designed to look more like traditional Hi-Fis than Docking systems
  • Not as easily portable as some docking stations

Hi-Fi separate systems:

  • Individual components purchased separately
  • System built to user’s own preferences and specifications
  • Docking unit needed for optimal iPod playback
  • Prices for completed systems can range from hundreds to thousands of pounds
  • Sound quality can be substantially better than mini hi-fis and docking stations
  • Components are available in a wide range of styles and sizes
  • Designed to be installed in a room and not moved about
  • Can be more complex to use than docks and minis
  • Individual components can be added, removed and replaced as desired
  • Amplifier unit will have a number of inputs and outputs
  • Certain amplifiers feature surround sound making them ideal as the centrepiece of a home-cinema setup

Which type of system is best for you depends on your budget and what you want to use it for. While docking stations and mini Hi-Fis offer compact value for money, the expandability and quality of a separates system speaks for itself. Audio purists will fight to the end for the best individual components and have a fortified position that the smaller systems can’t make a dent in. However, not all of us want, need or can afford such luxurious features. The docks and minis have conquered a large part of the market with their lower price and size, and the best systems offer sound quality that’s edging ever closer to the separates’ territory.

The best system for you will fit into your home and lifestyle perfectly, winning a place in your heart as it victoriously plays the music you love.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s manual for specific details.

Updated On:

Nov 21, 2011

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