Digital radio has been slowly creeping into our lives since its launch 18 months ago, and while we're yet to see car stereos or home theatre systems with DAB+ on-board, things are getting closer. Sony's CMTFX350I is one of the first mini hi-fis we've seen to include digital radio on-board, and is also one of the cheapest at AU$279.
With component tuners, or radios without an amp or speakers, costing AU$500 to AU$600 a piece surely this Sony can't be any good?
Cheap mini systems don't usually win design awards, as they're often designed to offer high "bang for buck". While the CMTFX350I is unmistakably a mini system it does have a couple of design elements that help it stick out. The first is the front-facing iPod dock; most companies plonk the iPod on top of the unit, but by scalloping out the front edge of the CMTFX350I Sony has been able to place the iPod up against the fascia. This not only adds stability, but provides a cleaner "look".
The unit comes with a modicum of controls including large, friendly play and pause buttons. The display panel is a reasonably sized, one-line LCD and not only gives you digital radio information, but also track numbers for the on-board CD player. The disc tray features a latched, push-down lid.
Like many mini systems, the speakers are separate from the main unit and can be placed in a way to maximise the stereo effect. As a budget unit, the speakers themselves are chipboard and not the high-quality MDF you'd expect from a mid-range system.
The digital radio and iPod dock were easily controllable via the remote, which is small but functional.
So, let's see if we get this straight: the Sony is a stereo iPod dock with DAB+/FM and CD player? For the price of a mono DAB+ radio? Sign us up!
While the number of features surprised us for the price, what we weren't prepared for was its performance. For the price, the Sony performs very well and, despite the chipboard construction, the speakers don't give out when the going gets rough. Given bass-heavy material, such as Battles and Pendulum, the sound (and the system!) held together and the results were actually danceable. While there wasn't much in the way of bass response, what was there was quite tight and not overblown.
Given less punishing material, the Sony put in a polished performance and proved itself a classy performer with Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" — adroitly separating the bass from the vocal mix and putting the instruments in their rightful places.
The system comes with a sound booster called DSGX, and while these systems tend to sound boomy and bloated with these modes engaged, it actually improved the sound markedly and sounded weedy without it. Only at the very loudest volume did a little harshness creep in at either mode.
DAB+ reception may have been an issue for the Grundig Trio Touch we compared this system to, but the long wire antenna was able to pick up all of the stations we expected and the Sony wasn't sensitive about where in the room we sat!
Given the feature count and price, the Sony's CMTFX350I is a surprisingly refined mini system that proves itself to be a cut above most "kid's bedroom" units. It comes with a small degree of future-proofing in the form of DAB+ and could also perform well as a second stereo system.