Onkyo CS-545UK review

3 out of 5
£299

For

Small size, price, CD sound quality

Against

Fiddly remote control, sound from iPhone and USB

A media-savvy micro system that includes DAB and an iPhone dock - and all for less than £200 - sounds like any hi-fi wannabe's desktop dream come true.

At first glance this diminutive system appears reasonably well specified for the modern age. Sure, there's a CD player at its core, but even its iPhone dock and USB slot, the latter of which can read WMA and MP3 files, are starting to feel just as tired as the shiny silver disc. Does anyone carry around MP3s on a USB stick anymore? Not in my experience. And although it's too early to call time on iPhone docks, the trend towards Apple AirPlay-style and Bluetooth speakers is probably irretrievable. The reason is simple: it’s impossible to watch YouTube or play Angry Birds while your phone is on the other side of the room.

A good argument in favour of AirPlay is provided by the CS-545UK itself, which uses a steadfastly 1970s-style remote control to trudge through a USB stick's list of files. It's no worse than a lot of similar systems, but the novelty of playing an MP3 has worn-off enough for a bare-bones user interface to be actively dissuading.

Incidentally, this Onkyo will recognise files transferred to a USB stick using a Mac, but it will also try to read various digital debris from that process, such as file impressions and deleted material; easily navigating and smoothly playing an album without significant gaps proved impossible during our test.

With an iPod or iPhone in situ and charging, the remote can work its internal menus though you’ll obviously have to be sitting pretty close to the CS-545UK to see what's going on. A similar issue mars playback of digital music from a USB device attached to the front; the screen doesn’t have enough characters to display song names at a glance, so instead shows a moving graphic.

Priced at around £100 for the pair as an optional add-on, these diminutive black speakers are well-built and nicely sized for bookshelves (even if the main unit is far too deep for similar positioning), but produce a sound that’s dominated by harsh treble highs and a barely adequate bass response.

There’s nothing wrong with the CS-545UK’s digital amplifier, however; we hooked-up the system to some bigger, more capable speakers and Elbow’s anthemic Open Arms from Build A Rocket, Boys! had enough range to lend the choir an enveloping effect. That was from a CD; files played from both an iPhone and a USB stick had a noticeably harsher sound. All in all, we’d say that the CS-545UK doesn’t produce a warm enough sound while also lacking any up-rezzing tech for compressed music files. There is a Super Bass button, accessed via a very fiddly remote (it’s marred by tiny buttons and a basic design), but it boosts low frequency sound in a rather all-over way that lacks any punch or direction.

In some ways this unit makes for a great compromise option that bridges the gap between the likes of slightly cheaper and less powerful Teac CR-H258i and Denon DM38DAB, and the pricier, more media streaming-savvy products like the Marantz M-CR603 Melody Media and Arcam Solo Mini.

Verdict

A reasonably attractive and slightly retro micro system is letdown by distinctly average sound quality from digital sources - including from its iPhone dock - and optional speakers that fail to impress. If you can't bear to rip-and-sell your CD collection, you've made the right choice; this Onkyo does well with CD if paired with some decent speakers, but overall this system has one too many rough edges to be declared fit for the digital age of audio.