T+A Caruso Blu

The T+A Caruso Blu is described by its German manufacturer as a 'complete multi-source hi-fi system.' As a product, it's delightfully esoteric – a heavyweight, premium-priced one-box solution that works as a Blu-ray player, media player, CD deck, DAB/'net/FM radio and a Bluetooth dock. It's undoubtedly a lifestyle product, but one that promises a high level of performance. 

Design and build is exemplary, with T+A managing to make what is basically a squat box seem rather stylish. The top plate is a sturdy-feeling slab of brushed metal, while the front fascia offers a large VFD display flanked by black speaker grilles and a smattering of buttons. Pick it up and you'll discover it weighs a hefty 8kg.

Inside, the Caruso Blu packs a trio of 50W amplifiers to power its five internal speaker drivers (two tweeters, two mid-range units and a woofer) in a stereo configuration. The back plate features numerous connections, including coaxial and optical digital inputs (the latter, the brand suggests, could be used to make it a TV speaker), analogue stereo inputs, and stereo and subwoofer pre-outs, plus USB (there's one on the front, too), Ethernet and an HDMI output.

The latter connects the Caruso Blu to your TV for use as a BD player. It's also vital for media file playback, as you use your screen (rather than the T+A's front display) to browse and select audio files (format support includes FLAC, WAV and ALAC upto 192kHz/32-bit) from connected sources. The user interface is quite pleasant, with a sensible and responsive design.

A night at the movies

The T+A Caruso Blu performs its BD-spinning duties admirably. Disc-loading times are reasonable, it provides 3D support and doesn't appear to impart any unwanted additional processing to the 1080p image. BD-Live is even an option for those that like to party like it's 2008.

As a one-box audio solution the Caruso Blu does a good job. There's a clear, approaching clinical, side to its delivery that I find appealing. The clarity in the higher frequencies is good enough to make you aware of details that often go unnoticed on convenience-first products, be it the flicks of a plectrum on a guitar string during the opening passages of Lynyrd Skynryd's Free Bird, or the quietly wailed backing vocals during The Rolling Stones' Sweet Black Angel.

Balance across the frequency spectrum is superb. There's sufficient power here in the lower midrange to drive rhythm sections forward – kick drums hit hard, basslines are beautifully defined – but not too much low-end oomph to detract from the mids and highs. Give it some modern electronica (such as Skrillex's Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites) and its lively presentation seems a perfect fit. And the better-quality audio you can feed it, well... the better. With CDs it retains a smooth grip on proceedings – lossy Bluetooth streaming can sound a bit fractious under the guidance of this revealing amp/driver combo. 

The stereo spread of its in-built speakers is somewhat restricted, however – the panned guitar drones of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love sound rather confined – and this is where you might want to add your own dedicated pair and use the Caruso Blu's own amps. Except you can't – you'll need either active designs (perhaps T+A's own CM Active Minis) or a stereo amp fed by the pre-outs. 

Another criticism of the Caruso Blu is that it's a little bit of a bumpy ride to drive. Part of this can be attributed to its sheer wealth of feature options, but the combination of the front-panel buttons and supplied handset takes some getting used to. Indeed, having lived with the T+A for a good few weeks, I'm still not entirely comfortable with it. 

Also, I'm not entirely sure where the Caruso Blu belongs in my household. I've moved it from office to dining room to living room – taking advantage of its numerous talents – but it hasn't stayed put in any of them. Ideally it would connect to a TV, as discussed earlier, but I've enjoyed its punchy, in-yer-face sonics most as a desktop speaker.
And, call me a completist, but I was certainly expecting Super Audio CD compatibility to be amongst the player's many skills.

Overall, then, the odd-ball Caruso Blu is worth considering if you have deep pockets. It's a carefully engineered audio solution, with plenty of other strings to its bow, that can make a good few other components immediately redundant. Yet its price certainly counts against it. 

T+A Caruso Blu, £3,000 approx

Verdict: 4/5