Six ways to use your mini hi-fi system
By Oliver Trebilcock
Ensure you’re making the most of your mini hi-fi with our expert guide to the range of functions available on most current mini hi-fi systems.
Whether you’re looking to buy a mini hi-fi or you already own one, knowing and understanding its full capabilities is essential. It’s not a cheap piece of equipment, and for most of us a mini hi-fi system is an investment that can be used in several ways.
Your choice of mini hi-fi should be guided by how you intend to use it. As well as the obvious, there are some lesser-known things your mini hi-fi can do. To help you make the most of your purchase, we’ve rounded up the best ways to use your mini hi-fi and some practical considerations to bear in mind.
Find the systems that sailed through our stringent Which? lab tests – head to our reviews of Best Buy mini hi-fis.
1. Listen to the radio and your CD collection
Generally, all mini hi-fi systems come with analogue (FM) or digital (DAB) radio. Many have both, giving you the option to choose between the two, as coverage can vary depending on where you live.
A CD player is another common feature. Cambridge Audio’s Minx Xi micro hi-fi is the sole exception we've seen in the past four years. It’s the only mini hi-fi system we’ve tested that doesn’t have a CD player or receive FM or DAB radio, but it does have internet radio and wireless streaming capabilities.
2. Improve your TV’s sound using your mini hi-fi
Mini hi-fi systems are conventionally associated with playing music, but our tests reveal that they can be a worthy alternative to a TV sound bar or home cinema system. We directly compared a range of similar-scoring sound bars, home-cinema systems, TVs and mini hi-fis, and found the mini hi-fi leagues apart in terms of sound quality.
If you want to hook up your mini hi-fi to your TV, you can connect it via the digital audio output or with a standard aux cable. Most mini hi-fi systems won’t have a digital optical or coaxial input to receive a Blu-ray player’s digital signal, but you can easily buy a digital-to-analogue converter for about £15.
3. Play your vinyl collection
Whether you’re new to vinyl or have an old collection in a box somewhere gathering dust, you can get the most out of your records by playing them through your mini hi-fi.
Generally, you will need an aux or phono cable to connect it to your record player, depending on what ports your mini hi-fi has. You’ll also need an external preamp to amplify the sound if your record player or mini hi-fi doesn’t have one built in. These cost around £20 and are widely available.
4. Play digital music
If most of your music collection is stored digitally, look for mini hi-fi systems that have a USB port or a built-in Apple Lightning dock (sometimes referred to as an iPod dock or an iPhone dock, but they also work with iPads).
Both the dock and a USB cable will allow you to hook up your mini hi-fi to your MP3 player, smartphone or tablet. This often means you can charge your device while you play music through the mini hi-fi speakers.
5. Connect wirelessly through NFC and Bluetooth
Both Bluetooth and near field communication (NFC) can be used to establish a wireless connection between your mini hi-fi and another device. It’s very easy to pair smartphones, MP3 players, tablets and laptops to your mini hi-fi, and it allows you to stream music from your music library or from the internet.
If your mini hi-fi doesn’t support Bluetooth, you can plug in a Bluetooth audio receiver, which you can buy for about £20. Note that NFC applies only to smartphones, and you’ll need to have it positioned no more than 20cm away for it to connect to your mini hi-fi.
6. Hook up your mini hi-fi to a multi-room system
You can wirelessly spread music to every area of your home with a multi-room speaker system. This can be the same song in every room or different music in each room. Some mini hi-fi systems can link up with multi-room speakers and sound bars within same range – Panasonic, Sony and Denon allow this, for example.
If you’ve got multi-room speakers that are not the same brand as your mini hi-fi, you can still connect them, but you may need a wired connection or have to invest in an amp or connector device. It’s worth contacting the manufacturer for further advice before you buy to make sure the products are compatible and find out the full cost involved.