The most Carlton Audio Visualiest system ever.

We set out to build a modern Hi-Fi package that just happened to contain some of our best sellers.

Many years ago, I left Carlton Audio Visual, but for some reason they still can't see to get rid of me. I even moved to Tasmania, but it turns out that there is an airport, so I occasionally fly up to help. Or hinder, I'm not quite sure. So I came up to town to help launch this website and to put together our first system for it. And I brought my pal Joe, to learn him in the ways of Hi-Fi. We decided to use Joe as a guinea pig and had him steer us through building a Hi-Fi system. It just happened to be one of the most popular systems we do.

We knew we wanted to build a system for the modern Hi-Fi listener. That meant both a way to play back streaming sources and vinyl. In fact, we knew vinyl would be the heart of the system so we began with a Rega Planar 1, a very popular turntable for a modest price. We hooked it into the recently arrived Cyrus One and then we brought in a few options for speakers.

We started with some bookshelf speakers. Legend Joeys are a favourite amongst the staff, so we gave them a listen and Joe was suitably impressed. They are a great little speaker for the money - never likely to win a beauty pageant, but with a very musical, open sound. For competition, we hooked up a set of Monitor Audio Silver 1's. The silver 1's were all over the legends in terms of looks, but sonically, they are more upfront than the Joeys. Listening to 'Time' from Dark Side of the Moon (required listening in a Hi-Fi store apparently...) through the Planar 1 and Cyrus One, the Monitor Audio was just a bit too boisterous, particularly on the opening cash register sounds (A subliminal hint Rab?). We threw on the Johnny Cash rendition of 'Hurt' and had another listen - the legends were just a bit more expressive and consensus was they were the better option, although not quit as taught in the bass. So, we decided to try some floor-standers.

Out came the bigger brothers. Legend Kamas and Monitor Audio Silver 6's. We played the Kamas, and as expected, they added some more depth whilst retaining the sweet qualities of the smaller Joeys. Mission accomplished, we tried out the Silver 6 as a comparison. Interestingly, a lot of the forwardness we had heard on the smaller Silver 1 had receded. There was still plenty of detail and sparkle, but it wasn't as in your face as the bookshelf model. The bass was also a bit crisper than the Kamas, whilst retaining a very musical quality.

At this point, Martin suggested we try a set of Krix Phoenix Mk2. The hope was that they had a sound somewhere in between the two - the sweet treble of the Legend and the tight bass of the Monitor Audios. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, with the midrange just lacking the cohesiveness of the other options and the bass, whilst plentiful, not being as tuneful as the other options. There was one more trick to try, so I brought in a pair of tiny PMC DB1s.

Back to a bookshelf we knew we would miss a bit of the dynamics, but for a small speaker we knew them to have excellent bass extension. To prove it, we threw on 'Breathe' by The Prodigy (an album that is 20 years old somehow). First impressions were very favourable. The bass was tight and tuneful and there was a great open soundstage. The top end was open and airy too. We swapped back between a few speakers with the Prodigy album, thinking perhaps the PMCs fit the bill. But we decided to switch back to Johnny Cash, and suddenly the dynamics were not to the standard of the floorstanders. The prodigy track is such a massive song that even on the DB1s it sounded huge. Listening to Cash's cover of 'Personal Jesus', the floorstanders had extra reach and sense of scale that the DB1's couldn't match. No wonder they call them the Dinky Box.

So after a good long listen, the speakers that stood out the most were the Monitor Audio Silver 6. The top end was still a little forward compared to other options, but we knew that we could solve that by turning our attention to the amplifiers. Up until this point, we had done all our comparisons with the Planar 1 and the Cyrus One. The Cyrus One is still a pretty new product, both for us and for Cyrus. While we are intimately aware of how their amp sound, this is a new product with a different design and a new low price point. It's an impressive sounding unit, complete with built in bluetooth and MM phono stage, but it's far from the only option at the price point.

We immediately reached for another new amp - the latest Rega Brio (2017). The Brio has been, without a doubt, our go to amplifier for about a thousand years. This is the latest update to the Brio, the first in 5 years. No digital options, but it does have a phono stage, remote and new hefty casework. From the moment we started listening, we knew that this was going to be the one to beat, particularly with the Silver 6. Immediately the bass was more solid and tuneful. The treble had smoothed out and the midrange sweetened up. We swapped over to the Kamas for comparison. The bass was still rock solid, but the treble didn't have the same airy quality to it. We swapped back to the Silver 6 and tried another option.

In came the Rotel RA12. If this was going to come down to features, the Rotel would win hands down. Built in DAC, Apple compatible USB, Bluetooth, phono - the amp has serious connections. We hooked it up for a listen, and straight away the soundstage was more constrained and the mid-range receded. The top end dominated too. It did fare a bit better with the Legends, but the combination didn't match the Brio and Silver 6.

We considered a few other amplifiers to try, but we know that the Brio is hard to beat in this price bracket. We talked about upping the amplifier budget, but we knew we could wring more improvements for less money by looking at the source.

We had started with the Planar 1, partly because we know it's a good turntable for the money - it's why we sell boat loads of them. But we decided to pit it against a similarly priced rival in the Project Carbon Debut. After a bit of faffing about (ok, a lot of faffing about) with power supplies and cables, we hooked up the Carbon Debut. The Debut is well priced, available in a billion colours and has a better (more expensive) cartridge than comes stock with the Planar 1. Sonically though... It just seemed to lack the musicality of the Rega. The biggest culprit seemed to be the timing - it just seemed to be completely laid back and lacking energy. We switched back to the Planar 1 and had another listen - instantly more life to the recording.

So, we did the logical thing and upgraded to the Planar 2. The Planar 2 brings an upgraded arm (the single piece tapered tube Rega have used for years) and a glass platter. Despite carrying the same cartridge as the Planar 1, the upgrade was immediately apparent. Listening to the Pixies 'Where is my mind' the drums had a much more appreciable snap to them, the guitar snarls more present and the bass bouncing along underneath everything. We were tempted to jump up to the Planar 3, but that adds in the complication of cartridges, as it doesn't include one. We also felt that the next real step up turn table wise is actually to stick with the Planar 2 and to upgrade the cartridge. The tonearm on the planar 2 is incredibly capable, and can justify cartridges costing more than the base turntable. Plus, we also wanted to save some money for digital.

Joe, like most folks these days, uses music streaming for the bulk of his daily musical diet. So we knew some sort of streamer would be the go. We could have picked a Sonos Connect here, but we knew that the HEOS Link is a more capable option - the Hi-Res audio support and USB input are handy, and it's just more detailed. We hooked it up giving Joe access to his music collection, rather than the pile of mandatory issue Hi-Fi store vinyl.

Joe immediately loaded up 'The Chemical Workers Song' from Great Big Sea via Tidal and the scale was impressive. The vocal rang out and conveyed a sense of space and place in our tiny demo room. Then we tried D.Dumbo's 'Satan' via Deezer, which had toes tapping as the rhythmic track bounced along. Everything was sounding great, but Martin had one more trick up his sleeve.

Rather than try a different streamer, he returned with a Chord Mojo. This tiny DAC/headphone amp fit the bill for a few reasons - it sounds incredible and it doubles as an upgrade for his phone, quite handy for Joe who travels a fair bit. So Martin plugged it in and after configuring it for line level, we had a listen.

Revelatory. The difference was not subtle. Detail increased dramatically and the sound stage blossomed. The bass tightened up and the timing improved. The Great Big Sea suddenly took on a new scale and D.Dumbo's track was propulsive, the percussion was driving and metronomic. The difference was so remarkable, you could hear it from the next room. At this point we knew we had found a pretty special combination. While we could have kept experimenting with DACs, nothing seemed to fit the bill without an exponential jump in dollars. Plus, the portable option was handy. We had a quick listen with Joe's laptop and a set of 100 dollar sennheiser in ear headphones and confirmed what we heard before wasn't some fluke. We had arrived at our system.

Our System:

  • Digital source : Denon HEOS Link - $599
  • Analogue source : Rega Planar 2 Turntable (inc. Rega Carbon) - $849
  • Amplifier : Rega Brio 2017 - $1,299
  • Speakers : Monitor Audio Silver 6 - $2,150
  • Cable : Chord Clearway Speaker Cable (6m) - $144
  • Interconnect : Chord Clearway RCA (1m) - $170
  • Accessory : Carbon Fibre Brush - $25

So, after thinking about it, we decided that given that the system performs very well without it, the Chord Mojo should be considered an option rather than a requirement. It's certainly an incredible upgrade, but if funds are tight, we can offer the package without it. We also packaged in some Chord Company cables, as they were what we used for our listening session.

So, all together, the package comes to : $5,236, but after a bit of arm contortion, we can get the price down to : $4,700. This is including shipping to the metro area of a capital city - If you're in a regional area there may be some additional charges - contact us for a quote before placing an order. 

We're also going to offer some options: the Chord Mojo ($799) is like a supercharger for the digital side of things - You can add a Mojo for $700, including swapping out the interconnects for a QED optical lead and 3.5mm to RCA cable. The other option is a tune-up for the analog side of the equation - you can swap out the Rega Carbon for an Ortofon 2M Blue ($329) for $269 including fitting.

This is a truly exceptional system for under $5k. It contains some of our most popular kit, but after a marathon listening session, we know its a well-balanced package that sounds great together. It's more than the sum of it's parts. Whether you're into detail, or big bottom end, this is a package that's sure to suit. If you want to find out more, feel free to give us a call, or drop us an email to find out more.