If you’ve ever dreamed of owning serious hi-fi separates, but got sidetracked by iPods, iPhones and other computer-centric gadgets, Arcam’s Solo Neo could drag you back to your dream without making any sacrifices to modernity - and without the need for space and cash-sapping separates.
Integral to the Solo Neo are a CD drive (which plays recordable discs, too) and DAB+/FM/AM radio tuners, though this heavyweight hi-fi lives up to its all-in-one moniker by adding wired and Wi-Fi streaming, USB playback and all manner of connectivity options.
Stylistically the Solo Neo is understated, with its silver (only) fascia featuring streamlined controls either side of a CD drive set above a blue-on-black LED screen. As well as a host of controls also found on the remote, there’s a headphones socket and an auxiliary input for connecting an MP3 player.
What is missing from the front is the USB slot. Instead it’s squeezed-in around the back, making it tricky to chop ‘n’ change - though we’re thinking most users will either hook-up an external USB drive full or tunes, or stream digital music from an attached iPod or a networked PC or Mac.
Also around the back are a host of ins and outs to cover just about any configuration, with the Solo Neo able to take feeds from almost any source - including a TV and games console. Outputs cover a subwoofer and, of course, speakers. You’ll have to add your own unless you can find an all-in-one package, but choose wisely; the Solo Neo can power bookshelf speakers, of course, but it’s easily powerful enough for huge floorstanders, too.
Unusually for hi-fi kit there’s an Ethernet LAN port, though we tested the built-in wireless receiver. Setting-up the network and entering a WEP key is a cinch once you’ve found the network connection wizard, and that’s typical of the Solo Neo as a whole - its interface is rather rudimentary and takes a little getting used to.
Though its rounded edges are a nice touch and it impresses if left in full view on a surface, its shape and ambitions with virtually any source means its size makes it a candidate for racking and stacking.
That’s largely down to its size, though there’s a reason why this all in one is no lightweight. Complete with pre and power amp, the Solo Neo doesn’t mess around with CD; lush, precise and powerful audio, with no trace of hiss, is the result, though it’s a different matter with digital files.
Attach a USB stick to the rear and it’s a simple affair to play MP3 and WMA files, while it also handles lossless formats such as WAV, FLAC and AAC (though not OGG or SHN files). Streaming is similarly hampered by the small display, and we noticed that although it accessed a nearby PC on the same Wi-Fi network, found music files and played them quickly, it didn’t recognise iTunes playlists.
The Solo Neo’s Net Radio feature works well; not only is it possible to stream from sensibly filtered folders of radio stations (UK, BBC, genre, etc - with a favourites list to fill, too), but podcasts can also be accessed - and not just the most recent. Connecting and playing quickly, it’s possible to browse other podcast collections while you carry on listening.
DAB and other radio stations are found quickly and are reasonably easy to navigate and save presets, though of more interest is Arcam’s irDock, which we also reviewed. You can find it included some retailers’ package deals for the Solo Neo. Solid and able to charge an iPhone or iPod, it’s nevertheless a wire-heavy process to hook it up to its mothership; as well as twin stereo outputs there’s a control jack and power socket to consider. An integrated flip-out dock on the Solo Neo itself would be far more appealing.
If you’re after no-hassle wireless music, something from Sonos will better suit, but if you’re willing to trade total ease of use for a higher-end, much more powerful, and all-encompassing hi-fi solution extraordinaire, Arcam’s Solo Neo will be music to your ears.
It makes a play for the digital streaming market, but at its heart Arcam’s Solo Neo is a heavyweight hi-fi that’s more traditional than modern in that its mission is superlative sonics. A built-in iPod dock wouldn’t go amiss, not would a bigger display for scrolling through songs streamed from a PC, but this is one serious - and seriously powerful - next-gen hi-fi.