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Sony's affordable tabletop 'hi-fi' system

The $150 Sony CMT-MX500i might serve as a terrific starter hi-fi or holiday present; either way the Audiophiliac thinks it's a sweet little system.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
The Sony CMT-MX500i tabletop hi-fi system Sony

Very few nonaudiophiles have hi-fis anymore, but if you would like to listen to music at home over something better than iffy computer speakers without breaking open your piggy bank, Sony's nifty little CMT-MX500i might be worth checking out.

The three-piece system comes with a pair of two-way bookshelf speakers mated to an attractively styled combo CD player/iPod dock/FM tuner/stereo amplifier. The speakers measure a tidy 5.5x9.4x7.9 inches, and the amp is 12x11x5 inches. The wood cabinet's speaker wire is permanently attached, and uses a proprietary plug that goes into the amp. System hookup is supereasy, but the proprietary speaker connectors thwart chances to hook up other speakers to the amp: it's a closed system. The amp's bass and treble controls allow for on-the-fly tonal balance changes, and I preferred the sound with the treble nudged down a little, and the bass boosted two steps. The CMT-MX500i comes with a full-function remote.

Arcade Fire's new "Reflektor" CD unleashed a big sound, and the band's bouncy beats were well played by the CMT-MX500i. True, the sound is a far cry from what you'd get from Pioneer's SP-BS22 speakers ($129.99 a pair) matched to a decent $200 or $300 receiver, but the two Sony speakers, placed 6 feet apart, can create a room-filling stereo image. Which is, after all, the way the engineers mixed the music in the first place; too bad you'd never hear true stereo over a $300 Bluetooth speaker.

The CMT-MX500i's iPod dock uses the classic Apple 30-pin connector, not the current Lightning connector, but most older iDevices will be compatible with the CMT-MX500i's dock. I tried my iPod Classic, and it worked fine. If you don't have an iDevice, just run a $3 cable between your phone or any portable music player and the CMT-MX500i's front-panel, 3.5mm input jack. The FM tuner pulled in my favorite college stations no problem.

So this little Sony package really might be ideal for folks who want to enjoy tunes at home without relying on a computer. It doesn't have a turntable input, but if you're into vinyl go ahead and buy an inexpensive phono preamp and plug it into the CMT-MX500i's front-panel input jack.

Amazon is currently selling the CMT-MX500i for just under $140.