You don’t need tons of money and “know-how” to build a top-notch hi-fi sound system!
There’s a misconception that you need to be some kind of “guru” or expert to put together an affordable high-end hi-fi system. But with the new class of audiophile streaming amplifiers, building a capable system has never been easier!
A streaming amplifier combines an integrated amp and network music streamer, which means all you need from there is a good pair of speakers and some speaker wire. We also recommend speaker stands for bookshelf speakers and an audio rack, but they’re optional. That said, once you connect the amp to Wi-Fi, you can tap into just about any music streaming service (or your local network drive) and play just about any song you can think of!
Things don’t get any simpler than that.
In this case, we’re recommending a three-box system based around one of the hottest “all-in-one” streaming amps, the $2499 Cambridge Audio EVO 75. Admittedly, it’s not the cheapest streaming amp out there, but you’ll have a hard time finding another amp with its striking design and clean sound. Everyone we’ve talked to loves how it looks, from the vast, bright LED screen around to the swappable designer side panels.
Alongside that captivating integrated, we have the breathtaking new bookshelf speakers from Kef, the $1599 LS50 Meta. These speakers are a clear improvement upon the original LS50s, which were pretty good in their own right. In our recent review, we declared they were the only way to get the “faithful midrange presentation of a top-notch British mini-monitor for less than 2k”, and we stand by that.
This speaker/amp combination has excellent synergy with the EVO75 providing the grunt and refinement needed to get the best out of the LS50 Meta speakers. In turn, the speakers have the accuracy to bring out all the clarity and musicality of the EVO without producing any distracting harshness up top.
These pieces represent the evolution of high-end audio, with the EVO75 being the new version of your grandpa’s stereo receiver and the LS50 the evolution of the classic British mini-monitor. The sound has evolved as well, and you get it without much fuss.
One caveat, however. While the LS50 Meta speakers have good punch and provide enough bass to provide sufficient richness, they will not rattle the roof. So if you want to rock the house, you may want to grab a Kef Sub to go along with them.
- The Source/Amplifier: Cambridge Audio Evo 75 Integrated Amplifier ($2499)
- The Speakers: KEF LS50 Meta Bookshelf speakers ($1599)
- Speaker Cables: Audioquest Rocket 11 Speaker Wire – 10FT. Pair ($299)
- Speaker Stands: KEF GFS-124 Custom speaker stands for KEF LS50 ($349)
- Audio Rack: Pangea Audio Vulcan Four Shelf Audio Rack ($199)
- Powered Subwoofer: KEF KUBE 8b Subwoofer Black ($599)
The Source/Amplifier: Cambridge Audio Evo 75 Integrated Amplifier ($2499)
When Cambridge Audio announced the EVO series, they promised a device that was “simple to use, thrilling to listen to” and one with “rich dynamics, huge scale, and complete control.” Well, there’s no doubt with the Cambridge Audio EVO 75 (and the even more powerful EVO 150), they have hit the nail on the head. We tried so hard to find something wrong with this all-in-one device, but it was darn near impossible.
If we had to pick something, it might be the fact that all settings are in the companion app, which makes it hard to change things quickly, or the fact that the app makes you use the streaming services’ (TIDAL, Qobuz, etc.) native apps to play music in most cases, but most streaming devices are moving that way. Hence, we’re not sure if those are issues at all.
If you want a beautifully designed streaming amp that gives you a substantial degree of transparent high-end audio sound (for what we consider a bargain price considering what you get), you need to get your hands on the EVO 75! Amazing!
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- 75 watts per channel into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz)
- 150 watts per channel into 4 ohms
- built-in ESS Sabre ES9016K2M DAC
- Hypex NCore Class D amplification
- built-in dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth® wireless connectivity (aptX® HD encoding)
- compatible file formats: ALAC, WAV, FLAC, MQA, AIFF, DSD
- StreamMagic app functions as a remote control and streaming platform
- large LCD screen displays source, settings, and album information
- full-metal casework with thick, brushed aluminum front panel and acoustically damped chassis
- swappable magnetic side panels let you customize the player’s look
The Speakers: Polk Legend L200 Large Premium Bookshelf Speaker ($1499)
We find the $1599.99 LS50 Meta bookshelf speakers make good on every promise given in the marketing materials. Not only are they more accurate and immersive than the original LS50, we see them as the ultimate realization of the LS50’s original design intent. That would be the proper evolution of the classic LS3/5a British Monitor. In addition, we applaud Kef’s ability to move the LS50’s performance so far upscale without doubling or tripling the price.
If you want the faithful midrange presentation of a top-notch British mini-monitor for less than 2k, this is probably the only ticket in town.
- Design: Two-way bass reflex
- Crossover frequency: 2.1 kHz
- Frequency range (-6dB): 47 Hz – 45 kHz
- Maximum output: 106 dB
- Amplifier power (recommended): 40-100 W
- Nominal impedance: 8 Ω (min. 3,5 Ω)
- Sensitivity (2.83V/1m): 85 dB
- Dimensions (HWD per speaker): 12 x 7.9 x 12.2 in.
In the final analysis:
If you’re looking for an affordable yet competent system that’s easy to set up and use, you should check out the Cambridge EVO 75/Kef LS50 Meta combo. We’ve spent a lot of time listening to this setup, and it kept us glued to our seats with its depth and separation, especially through the midrange. The sound coming from the speakers is so immersive with its wide soundstage and natural detail, and the amp is a joy to use with its giant screen and smooth (Android/iOS) remote control apps. Just load up your tablet, then sit back and enjoy! By the way, both pieces are easy to look at, so they will fit right into your decor!
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.