I have had great respect for one-box stereo systems since I first heard (in 2007) the wonderful half-moon-shaped Meridian F80 – now obsolete – fill rooms with its sweet, powerful, rich and almost magically spatial music.
This new, very different, but also rather superb and beautiful anodised-aluminium one-box machine of similar shelf-friendly size (54cm long) and heft (7kg) is from Mission, Meridian’s neighbour in Cambridgeshire’s audio arrondissement of Huntingdon. These days the 38-year-old Mission is owned by International Audio Group, which, though still with a Huntingdon base, manufactures its products in China. The group specialises in buying up British audio brands (Wharfedale is another) and revitalising them with a mixture of Chinese investment and manufacturing and quirky Anglophile enthusiasm. (Incidentally, I have been to its campus-like HQ in Shenzhen and these guys are such perfectionists they even make their own wire and electronic components on site.)
Mission’s Aero has been created to give the most convincing possible stereo effect from the smallest and least obtrusive physical footprint, which prevents it spoiling an interior. It is designed to be placed close to a wall, which enhances its considerable – but never overwhelming – bass, and achieves the same near-bewildering stereo as the F80. And wherever you are in the room, the spatial effect is still there. The Aero has an array of six speakers on board plus a 120mm bass subwoofer to make this happen, and each speaker has its own digital amplifier.
The Aero plays in two modes: one is conservative and solid, a grown-up sound reminiscent of a valve hifi; the other is the more exciting Sonic Emotion Absolute 3D processing. This provides a bright, almost raw sound that’s the perkiest and most arresting I’ve heard from a serious hifi maker. The separation is superb; parts of the music project from the machine like audible holograms. My two favourite tracks for testing hifi – Ha Ha Li Li by the avant-garde Beijing singer Sa Dingding and Comforting Sounds by the Danish band Mew – were jaw-dropping.
How do you get music to the Aero? There’s no CD slot like in the F80, so it’s mostly wireless – Bluetooth (my first choice), AirPlay (I’m not a fan), plus a couple of others. For ultimate quality you can also wire in a source, which I find myself doing quite a lot these days – even via an optical cable, which means the Aero makes a fine TV amplifier as well.