So, we reviewed a lot of equipment in 2023. There were very few duds. A lot of nice devices. And a couple that really stood out from the crowd to win Best of 2023 awards. One of which has stayed here and already featured in subsequent reviews; expect to see more of it in 2024. The other was returned to sender, a tear in our eye when the courier came. Better to have loved and lost as they say. So let’s spill the beans, in the process reminding ourselves why we fell in love with these beauties above all others….

Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

The alternative to passive speakers are actives, speakers with the amplification built in. So if you like the idea of fewer boxes, and of a professional matching the power amplifier precisely to your speakers, look no further. We’re big fans of the approach at Hifi Starters, hence reviewing five different active speakers at different price levels in 2023. 

Some went a step further by incorporating a streaming platform; no additional boxes required. Others like the AE1 Active here adopted a BYOS (Bring Your Own Source) approach. All sounded good, the Acoustic Energy AE1 Active topped the pile on sound quality though. Think: big and ballsy, but also refined and delicate when required. If this speaker has an Achilles heel I didn’t find it.

Despite the internal electronics it’s quite small, making it easier to accommodate in smaller rooms. All in all we were smitten, the AE1 Active delivering a big slice of the audiophile pie for only £1050.

A Best of 2023 award was mandatory, see here the original review.

WiiM Pro Plus

Regular readers will know of our love affair with new-kid-on-the-block, WiiM. Its puck-like Mini streamer wowed us last year, scooping a Best of 2022 award. Now its big brother Pro Plus has done it again, providing excellent sound at a knock-it-out-of-the-park price of £220. 

 

Its digital output sounds the same as that of the Mini and Pro; very good indeed if your DAC is up to snuff. Just make sure it has a coax or optical input, none of the WiiMs have a USB output. The raison d’etre of the Pro Plus is its superior on-board DAC though, a distinct step up from that in the Mini or Pro. Here at Hifi Starters the Pro Plus is currently adding a digital option to the £999 Rega System One (turntable, amp, speakers) that’s in for review. It’s also sounding very fine indeed through the Musical Fidelity A1 amplifier mentioned earlier.

We pitched the Pro Plus against Bluesound’s well-regarded Node. Similar functionality, the same standard of music software (Linkplay / BluOS) and very similar sound quality. The WiiM just costs less. Quite a bit less, even with the current promotional prices available on the Node. 

Let’s just say the Pro Plus makes a very compelling case for itself; it would have been churlish not to give it a Best of 2023 award. See here for the original review.

Onwards and upwards

And that’s it, 2023 put to bed, 2024’s reviews off and running with one possible contender for best of the year already. There are some exciting products in the pipeline though, best not to place your bets yet. We’ve also got some tweaks coming on editorial policy – some slightly dearer equipment added to the mix – to keep things fresh. Huge thanks for your time here last year, long may it continue.