Sony’s feature-packed 5.1 system eschews the tallboy speakers favoured by so many of its rivals for a less imposing design. The neat, gloss-back satellites stand 455mm tall and can be perched on shelves or furniture.

Inside, the drivers use Magnetic Fluid instead of a damper, allowing the coil to move more freely and, apparently, eliminating interference. It also makes them easier to squeeze into shallow cabinets, which is why Sony also uses it inside its 4K TVs.

Even more arresting is the BDV-N7100’s main unit, by far the funkiest of all four systems. Its angled, forward-sloping Sense of Quartz design smashes the usual black box conventions. The top panel slides open to reveal the disc mechanism, while an alluring blue light and touch-sensitive controls adorn the right hand side. It’s rather gorgeous, and connections are good too, including an HDMI output, which supports ARC and 4K upscaling, two HDMI inputs, optical digital and analogue inputs, an Ethernet port and FM aerial.

There are just four speaker plugs on the back – the other two are located on the wireless receiver that lives at the back of your room and keeps cables out of sight. Transmitter cards for the main unit and receiver are found in the box.

This impressive connectivity continues with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth NFC support, allowing you to pair a compatible device simply by tapping it on the NFC symbol. Music can be streamed from PCs and NAS drives on your home network, too – it supports MP3, WMA and AAC but not WAV and FLAC. Although if hi-res audio’s your bag, the Sony’s Super Audio CD support might suffice.

Video support includes AVCHD, WMV, XviD and AVI, although some of my hi-def files played out in fuzzy low-resolution. Format support is better via USB, with WAV and MKV being added to the list.

Internet content comes courtesy of the superb Sony Entertainment Network. Must-have apps like BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Netflix, LoveFilm and YouTube join quite-nice-to-have apps like BBC News and Sky News, while vTuner internet radio, Sony’s Video/Music Unlimited and social networking clients fill out the vast selection.

You can browse these within the familiar Xross Media Bar menu, which remains slick but is now heaving slightly under the weight of Sony’s expanding content.

While the Sony offers a solid feature count, it really smacks it out of the park where performance is concerned. I started The Hobbit... on Blu-ray and ended up watching the whole thing all over again – testament to the system’s absorbing, attention-grabbing sound quality.

Entrancing audio

The sonic signature here is one of crispness and composure – every scene sparkles with detail and rich background ambience, which left me entranced by even the most insignificant passages.

The sound of chirping birds and trickling water as Bilbo and company trot through the woods is just beautiful, and Howard Shore’s score has rarely sounded silkier.

Skip to a more energetic scene and the Sony takes it in its stride. Its tone has less bite than some competitors, such as the Samsung HT-F9750W and LG BH9430PW, and therefore can’t match them for sheer dynamism and power, but it still packs a punch.

The subwoofer lends deep, weighty bass to the bellowing roars and colliding boulders during the Stone Giants battle – although it could be a touch tighter – while the crack of splitting rocks is cleanly delivered.

Effects steering is swift and smooth, dialogue is projected clearly and the wide soundstage is further enhanced by the excellent 3D Surround mode. What’s more, you can turn it up loud without fear of giving your eardrums a battering – the sound retains its clarity and composure.

And with SACD playback showcasing a pleasing musical grasp, it's safe to say the BDV-N7100W is a hugely impressive system for the money. Fully-featured, well-built and great to listen to.