At half the price of even the budget Cambridge Azur 640T you wouldn't expect too much from a separate DAB/FM tuner, would you? You wouldn't expect the weighty case, metal fascia with neat textured paint; crystal clear LCD display with adjustable contrast or one of the simplest 'turn and push to select' user interfaces in this test. You might not expect it, but that is exactly what Acoustic Solutions SP111 delivers and more besides.
This rather fetching unit has a very British (read: Cambridge/Arcam) look but has shies away from a blue display in favour of a basic black on green with a backlight. The buttons on the fascia are big enough to find on a Friday night after the pub and you even get a headphone socket so you don't have to disturb the rest of the house when you do. Four presets are probably enough for most with DAB as the tuning interface is simplicity itself to swap between channels.
With such a finely crafted exterior you might expect the inside to look like a spaghetti of wires with a bolognaise of cheap components thrown in - but not so. You get a decent Radioscape DAB chipset and a meaty power supply, and the layout it neat and efficient. OK, connectivity on the back panel is sparse, expansion non-existent and the remote is a wobbly piece of plastic from China's booming 'tacky remote controls R us' industry. Then again you do get change from £100, so stop whinging.
Plug it in and hook up the supplied wire aerial to the single combined DAB/FM antenna input and the SP111 drops into an automatic DAB tuning mode. Having seen enough blue displays to light a concert recently the LCD coloured LCD makes a pleasant change. It is superbly clear and can display scrolling text information and data about the broadcast at the same time. Swapping between channels using the rotary tuning knob is a joy (and very retro) and, remote control aside, you can't really fault the SP111's operation.
It's too good to be true so far and is clearly going to sound like a strangled cat playing a violin. Oh how wrong. Getting into the Beethoven week on Radio 3 the SP111 gives a superb account of itself with a smooth and easy on the ear balance. Deep wind instruments have a suitably robust and rounded character and the balance is real sunny Sunday afternoon stuff. High notes are a laid back but better that than every trumpet chorus syringing your ears.
Presenters are handled fairly, without making them sound chestier than a 40-a-day smoker or more sibilant than frying bacon. Sarah Kennedy sounds every bit the mad but loveable old bat in the mornings on Radio 2 while Jez on Kiss is suitably irreverent and juvenile.
Switch to rock on Radio 6 and the SP111 really sets out its stall as a DAB hi-fi bargain. The beat is equally robust and funky, happily standing amplification to neighbour-annoying levels, and there's ample bass to get your heart and sofa pounding. On the down side, it is a little more shut in and congested then the very best and a tad too inoffensive to dig out those subtle nuances of light classical strings on Radio 3.
But hang on for a reality check. The Acoustic Solutions SP111 is half the price of its nearest rival, looks a million dollars, is a joy to use and in terms of bangs per buck is the most ludicrously good DAB hi-fi separate on the market today.