Friday, April 28, 2017
Paradigm's Flagship
Persona 9H
Sonus Faber
Speaker Debut
SoundStage!
Simplifi
CES
2017
MartinLogan
Advancements
Gryphon's
Story
Devialet's
Phantoms
NAD's
HP50 Headphones
Newsflash:
Merging NADAC ST-2 on SoundStage! Ultra ... Read the review
Onkyo's A-9010 on SoundStage! Access ... Read the review

Sponsors

Amphion Argon 3LPrice: $3695 per pair in black, white, or full white painted finish; $3995/pair in birch, cherry, or walnut real-wood veneers

Website: www.amphion.fi

Philip said: At just under $4000/pair it isn’t cheap, but I’ve heard more expensive speakers that don’t sound nearly as good. While there’s no such thing as a perfect speaker, Amphion’s Argon3L comes as close as I’ve heard to reaching that elusive ideal.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Perhaps one of the best small floorstanders under five grand a pair that you can currently buy.

Aperion Verus FortePrice: $1090 per pair

Website: www.aperionaudio.com

Thom said: In prizefighting, there’s a phrase to describe a boxer who hits like a fighter in a heavier class: "He punches above his weight." That was the case with the Aperion Audio Verus Forte Tower. I found it to be a really fine speaker overall, and a pretty remarkable one for its size. No, it didn’t have the ultimate bass performance; that’s where a subwoofer would come in. But on their own they provided a wide-bandwidth sound with excellent detail and a fine soundstage, and their depth of soundstage was especially good. This is a speaker that can sound great in many environments, though it does need some space behind it to sound its best. Overall, it was attractive and capable -- I recommend it to anyone looking for a really high-value speaker that sounds good and looks just as good.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Aperion's smallest floorstander stands tall in performance.

Aperion Verus Grand BookshelfPrice: $598 per pair

Website: www.aperionaudio.com

Colin said: Aperion Audio’s Verus Grand Bookshelf reminded me that great things can still come in small packages. The Bookshelf isn’t just a fine-sounding speaker, it’s a refined-sounding speaker that doesn’t offer only a glimpse of high-end performance -- it’ll take you on a full tour and give you a T-shirt at the end. With a beguiling tweeter and a clean, overachieving midrange-woofer, the Verus Grand Bookshelf proves that its name is no oxymoron. It’s a speaker well worth an audition and its asking price. And it looks fabulous.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Look at that finish!

Aperion Verus GrandPrice: $1798 per pair

Website: www.aperionaudio.com

Jeff said: Aperion Audio has ticked off all the areas you’d want ticked off by a floorstanding loudspeaker: clean, textured, articulate, full-range sound; solid build quality and a beautiful finish; nice touches such as dual sets of binding posts and magnetically attached grilles; and a price well under $2000/pair.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The new speaker-to-get-under-$2000 class leader.

Aperion Audio ZonaPrice: $499 per pair

Website: www.aperionaudio.com

Jeff said: Just do the easy thing: Get some Zonas, plug ’em in, dial ’em in with the remote, then sit back and enjoy the experience. The Zona might not take over the audio world -- such little guys can do only so much heavy lifting -- but they fill a void in the real world consumers live in, and do so while offering more performance, build quality, and features than you might expect for the price. To me, that makes them a solid recommendation. Thumbs up to wireless!

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Wireless speakers that actually sound good!

Atlantic Technology AT-1Price: $2500 per pair

Website: www.atlantictechnology.com

Ron said: The Atlantic Technology AT-1 is more costly than its closest competitor I’ve yet listened to, the $1995/pair Dynaudio DM 3/7, but the extra $505 buys a whole lot in terms of fit’n’finish and performance. The AT-1 just does more, both on paper and in the listening. Nothing about this speaker annoyed me in the least -- and usually I find something that does. To say that the AT-1 should worry other manufacturers is an understatement. Smart people will buy a pair for $2500; the same smart people would be justified in considering the AT-1 even if it cost two, three, or four times as much.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The standout budget floorstander of 2011.

Carnegie Acoustics CST-1Price: $1999 per pair

Website: www.carnegieacoustics.com

Colin said: If you want deep, natural bass, silky highs, a natural midrange, detail enough to satisfy pickers of the tiniest nits, and a soundstage so natural that a photo of this speaker should appear beside the dictionary definition of the word, the CST-1 is the speaker for you.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A standout in a crowded field of sub-$2000 speakers.

Dynaudio DM 3/7Price: $2000 per pair

Website: www.dynaudio.com 

Jeff said: All in all, the DM 3/7 safely preserves and extends Dynaudio’s reputation for good-sounding speakers. The company remains a strong competitor, even at this lower end of the market. 

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: A very solid buy in the impressive Dynaudio loudspeaker range.

Focal Chorus 826VPrice: $2495 per pair

Website: www.focal.com

Thom said: The Focal Chorus 826Vs sounded very fine with nearly any music I threw at them. To paraphrase the old song, I found them delightful to look at, lovely to hear. They seem to be French down to their very souls: distinctive, attractive, artistic, individualistic pieces of art. And for $2495/pair they’re an excellent value, and among the best speakers I’ve heard.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Mid-line Focal is one of their best values.

Gemme Audio Tonic G5Price: $1395 per pair

Website: www.gemmeaudio.com

Colin said: The Gemme Audio Tonic G5 is an outstanding speaker. It is the most exciting audio product I’ve crossed paths with this year, and it’s the biggest bargain, too. In fact, it’s probably all the speaker that most people with smaller rooms will ever need or want.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Colin has officially fallen in love with a speaker.

Gingko Audio ClaraVu 7 MkIIPrice: $2995 per pair

Website: www.gingkoaudio.com

Jeff said: I’ve been completely blown away by Gingko Audio’s ClaraVu 7 MkII. My listening room is a difficult space for many conventional speakers, but the Gingkos excelled in this tough environment. While tolerant of less-than-ideal placement, they really sang when I took the trouble to get their positions just right. This was when the ClaraVu 7 MkII became not merely a very good loudspeaker, but one of the most interesting I’ve heard in a long time.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Unconventional in some ways, but impressive to hear nonetheless.

Mordaunt Short Mezzo 8Price: $2495 per pair

Website: www.mordauntshort.com

Ron said: There is no question that it looks the part of a modern, good-looking loudspeaker, but the Mezzo 8's performance is really the key to its success. Twenty or 30 years ago, given its sonic excellence, such a speaker would have been boxy, ugly, perhaps hard to drive, and yet would still have been proudly displayed in the listening rooms/man caves of discerning audiophiles. Thankfully, times have changed for the better. Recommended!

Read the GoodSound! review.

The gist: A looker that sounds great, too.

NHT SuperZero 2.0Prices: $99 each (SuperZero 2.0), $349 (Super 8)

Website: www.nhthifi.com

Roger said: The pristine sound quality of these speakers satisfied the audiophile in me, and their ability to play loud and low made them, together, a system that I could enjoy and live with over the long term. If you’re looking for a speaker system in the neighborhood of $500, the NHT SuperZero 2.0 with Super 8 is a real find. I’ll be buying the review samples to use as my reference real-world speakers.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The model that continues to stand the test of time.

Paradigm Atom Monitor v.7Price: $398 per pair

Website: www.paradigm.com

Doug said: Most important, the speaker sounds remarkably robust in the bass for its size, exceedingly natural from the upper bass through the mids, and lively but extremely clean in the highs. All told, Paradigm’s Atom Monitor continues to be one of the best deals in high-end audio, and the highest-value entry point in the company’s vast speaker line. Very highly recommended for those looking for a lot of music for very little money. 

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: One of the best minimonitors under five bills.

Paradigm Shift A2Price: $279.99 each in Ash Black Grain

Website: www.paradigm.com/shift

Brooke said: I can’t think of any similarly priced passive speaker that equals its overall performance. The DSP gives the A2 the deep low end of a bass-reflex design, but with the tightness of a sealed cabinet. The A2 offers genuine high fidelity in the form of a very balanced sound throughout the audioband that never left me feeling tired. Despite its affordable price, it has no significant shortcomings. 

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Powered Paradigm to the people.

Paradigm SE 1Price: $698 per pair

Website: www.paradigm.com

Philip said: The Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 has reminded me that a well-designed pair of inexpensive speakers can give more than just a taste of what the best have to offer, at a price that many music lovers are actually willing to pay.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: What more could you want for the price?

PSB CS1000Price: $499 per pair

Website: www.psbspeakers.com

Doug said: For $499/pair, there is absolutely nothing I can quibble about in terms of how the CS1000 is built, what features it contains, and how it performs. The CS1000’s biggest selling feature is that it sounds like a good traditional indoor speaker -- the kind you’re used to listening to as part of a decent stereo system -- and it sounds that way outdoors, too.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Inside sound for the outside audiophile.

Selah Audio VeritaPrice: $2650 per pair

Website: www.selahaudio.com

Tim said: They are supremely musical devices fully capable of uncovering and communicating the most important aspects of recorded sound. They don’t reach too far into the upper or the lower extreme, but they pretty much nail everything in between, which is where, for most people, music lives.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A well-engineered two-way with great drivers and terrific sound.

Thiel SCS4TPrice: $3650 per pair

Website: www.thielaudio.com

Philip said: Thiel’s newest floorstander is a true reference product, and the attention to detail that has gone into both its construction and the execution of its design is extraordinary. Given the SCS4T’s neutrality, transparency, and wonderful balance, it is a loudspeaker that you’ll likely own and cherish for many years. It’s difficult to put a price on that.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Thiel’s smallest floorstander plays big performance-wise.

Triangle EspiritPrice: $3895 per pair

Website: www.triangle-fr.com

Aron said: I have been charmed by these speakers, and commend Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique for offering such a high-value product at such an attainable price. Every time I listened to them, they had a way of luring me into the music and not letting me go. Is there any better definition of a good loudspeaker? Not in my book.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: After 30 years, these guys know how to deliver the goods at a realistic price.

UltraLink UFi UCubePrice: $149.95 per pair

Website: www.ufiproducts.com

Rad said: . . . they are most at home when connected to a laptop on the go. In this application they’re easy to transport, a snap to connect, draw no power from the AC outlet that you might not be able to find anyway, and will surely deliver better sound than your laptop’s own speakers. Nor do you have to remember to plug them in and charge them up so they’ll be ready when you need them -- the UCubes are always ready to rock. They’d be a solid addition to and extension of any laptop. And they’re just so cute and stylish!

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Cute little speakers for your computer.

Vienna Acoustics Mozart GrandPrice: $3500 per pair

Website: www.vienna-acoustics.com

Doug said: Vienna Acoustics’ Mozart Grand SE doesn’t toe the line of accuracy to the nth degree, but it’s balanced well enough overall, and its genuine strengths include: generously full bass that belies the speaker’s size; silky-sweet, thoroughly extended highs; and a smooth, sultry midrange that gives the sound real presence and makes it an absolute joy to use for listening to all kinds of music.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Voiced just like Doug likes them.

AAD Silver Reference 7Price: $5000 per pair

Website: www.philjonespuresound.com

Philip said: I’m sold on Phil Jones’s belief in the virtues of using multiple small mid/woofers to produce not merely enough but voluminous low-end output. This, married to a clean, open midrange and an extended top end, makes the Phil Jones Pure Sound Silver Reference 7 a well-designed, superb-sounding loudspeaker that will no doubt win the attention of audiophiles looking for a reference speaker in the area of $5000/pair.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Phil Jones gives his take on great sound.

B&W 803DPrice: $10,000 per pair

Website: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Jeff said: When you plunk down your ten grand for a pair of 803 Diamonds, you get something more than really good sound. You get to own a B&W -- a speaker with a lineage as impressive as any brand’s. This is a wholly finished product that will not disappoint in any part of the ownership experience, and I can’t say that of everything in the high end. If you’re looking at speakers for over $10,000 and they aren’t better than the 803 Diamond, then they just aren’t competitive high-end speakers.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Diamonds are an audiophile's best friend.

Focus Prestige FP88 SEPrice: $6800 per pair

Website: www.focusaudio.com

Aron said: Focus Audio’s Prestige FP88 SE performed commendably with just about every recording and component I could find. Its finish is superb, its chamfered edges add a level of masculinity and character to its appearance that nicely offset its rectangular footprint, and I’ve always appreciated that Focus finishes its speakers’ plinths to match their cabinets. Inside, all components and the crossover design are new for this SE edition, and their resulting performance checks all the right audiophile boxes. 

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Focus is looking better and better these days. A real player in high-end loudspeakers.

MartinLogan EthosPrice: $6495 per pair

Website: www.martinlogan.com

Jason said: Despite the fact that $6495/pair sounds to me like a fair chunk of change, I’d have to put the MartinLogan Ethos at the "reasonable" end of the price spectrum. Considering that the Ethos is one of the most musically satisfying speakers I’ve heard in my room, I also have to say that, at $6495, it’s a flat-out bargain.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Cohesive sound from a hybrid speaker.

MartinLogan SpirePrice: $8495 per pair

Website: www.martinlogan.com

Roger said: MartinLogan's Spire is a visually stunning loudspeaker with a big, open sound to match. It did not, however, sound exaggerated or over the top in any way, and had few sonic compromises. If you think a hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker isn't for you, give the Spire a listen. In fact, anyone considering spending around $8495 for a pair of speakers should hear just how great the Spire actually is.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Re-perfecting the hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker, yet again.

Silverline Sonatina Mk.IVPrice: $5995 per pair

Website: www.silverlineaudio.com

Jeff said: Having the latest version of Silverline Audio’s Sonatina in the house has been like visiting with a long-lost friend. They’ve obviously matured, but you still recognize the traits that made you so comfortable with them all those years ago. I’ll be very sorry to see them go, and hope it won’t be as many years before they visit again. Highly recommended.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: The evolution of Silverline's classic model.

Volent VL-2 SEPrice: $8500 per pair

Website: www.volent.com.hk

Doug said: It’s also a seriously good speaker with exceptional build quality, terrific looks, and a wonderfully distinctive sound: deep, rich bass that will have you believing you’re listening to a much larger speaker; a well-balanced midrange that’s wholly natural and seamless, despite the very different technologies of its two drivers; and clear, prominent, lively highs that can sound spectacular with well-recorded music, but can veer toward brightness with "hot" recordings. In my opinion, where the VL-2 SE stands tallest is in the areas of transparency and detail.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Unique, expensive two-way that delivers distinctive sound.

Audio Physic Virgo 25Price: $13,990 per pair

Website: www.audiophysic.de

Jason said: The Audio Physic Virgo 25 is an impressive speaker, and I have no doubt that it’s easily worth $13,990/pair. It’s made with care, integrity, and pride, and is finished to an extremely high standard. If you really want to hear what’s going on in your music, and you want a pair of speakers that look stunning and that you can be proud of, I suggest you give the Virgo 25s a listen.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Fitting celebratory speaker for AP's 25th anniversary.

Magico Q3Price: $38,950 per pair

Website: www.magico.net

Jeff said: The Magico Q3 is a standard setter that liberates music from the impediments inherent to typical loudspeakers. It is for those of you who don’t like speakers but do love music. The experience of hearing the Magico Q3 is something truly unique. Folks, the Q3 is a bona fide state-of-the-art loudspeaker -- one that doesn’t cost a hundred grand a pair, or even close to it. Magico might just take over the loudspeaker world after all.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Super-speaker performance without the super-high price.

PBN Montana LibertyPrice: $15,000 per pair

Website: www.pbnaudio.com

Uday said: The PBN Montana InnerChoic Liberty packs a lot of punch at the price: In short, it’s a great value. It’s not the most beautiful speaker in the world, but, like the plain Jane who asks you to dance, that complex cabinet hides a lot of inner beauty. In this case, the result is the striking outer beauty of your music. And that’s what matters most.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Competitive product in a hotly contested price range.

Tidal Piano CeraPrice: $23,990 per pair

Website: www.tidal-audio.com

Jeff said: The Tidal Piano Cera is one terrific-sounding loudspeaker. It’s transparent and quick, and plays with more weight and depth in the bass than you would ever suspect from a glance at its driver array. In fact, looking at this speaker either on paper or in photos will give you no hint of the performance lurking beneath its rather simple but elegant appearance. There is a ton of clever engineering inside, and that technical expertise translates into audible results.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Tidal is here to stay as a force in high-end loudspeakers.

YGA CarmelPrice: $18,000 per pair

Website: www.yg-acoustics.com

Uday said: . . . given its level of engineering, heroic construction, excellent fit’n’finish, and terrific sound, that price doesn’t seem out of line. I haven’t had a chance to hear YGA’s Anat Reference III or Kipod II, both of which cost significantly more, but given their published specifications, I’m confident that most of the differences between them and the Carmel will be heard in the lower octaves. The fact that the Carmel achieved a level of performance near that of its big brothers at this price is one impressive accomplishment.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Don't be fooled by the size.

Axiom Audio Epic 80-800Price: $4786.10

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

Vince said: Axiom Audio’s Epic 80-800 home-theater speaker system brings phenomenal performance to the masses. It can play at concert-level loudness without requiring costly, high-powered amps -- a remarkable achievement. This system gets my highest recommendation.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: A heck of a lot of home theater for the money.

MartinLogan Motion 10Price: $3010.75

Website: www.martinlogan.com

Kevin said: When you get a superb movie system on top of a pair of excellent, affordable stereo speakers, you've captured the very best of both applications. Not only has MartinLogan stepped audaciously outside their comfort zone, they've produced an affordable line of pretty nifty speakers, each of which performs excellently.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: MartinLogan sound at a new price point.

Polk Audio BlackstonePrice: $1139.90

Website: www.polkaudio.com

Kevin said: The Blackstone TL350 speaker system delivered sweet, true sound with an enviable helping of midbass. Although my room is of decent size (20’L x 16’W x 10’H), the Polks never failed to fill it with sound. Their diminutive sizes make them ideal for smaller rooms and compact applications, and their mounting flexibility provides a wealth of options when shelf space is at a premium. Perhaps their most impressive attribute was their effortless delivery of the sound. The result is a home-theater system that packs as much punch as one would think possible for the price.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Polk goes small and scores big.

Velodyne DD+ 10Price: $3299

Website: www.velodyne.com

Kevin said: The Velodyne Digital Driveplus 10 renders professional-quality bass. It’s required listening if you’re in the market, or even just in the neighborhood. Recommended.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: The company that defined the genre continues to charge ahead.

Artisan Silver MCPrice: $305

Website: www.artisansilvercables.com

Graham said: All this for 305 bucks? Fuhgettaboudit. I don’t think I’ve heard the Silver MC’s equal for anywhere close to that amount. To better it, you’d need to move higher up the price ladder. 

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Get into good-sounding vinyl on a tight budget.

EAR MC 4Price: $2195

Website: www.ear-yoshino.com

Garrett said: The EAR MC 4 step-up is one fine analog instrument. If rich timbral colors, tonal weight and impact, and rhythmic tightness are what you listen for in music, it should be high on your audition list. Add to those characteristics its flexibility in providing multiple gain options, its small size, and its handsome looks, and I think it’s a no-brainer: one of the best values in audio.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: If you need one, this is a good choice.

MiyajimaPrice: $1260

Website: www.miyajima-lab.com

Garrett said: The Miyajima Premium BE performed capably with both vintage and reissue mono LPs, proving itself more versatile across a wider range of mono recordings than either Ortofon’s SPU or their new Cadenza Mono, each of which seems to have a more specific application. Not only is the Premium BE a high-value product, it produces a satisfying, saturated mono sound that guarantees great fun with vintage recordings of mono jazz and pop albums, and with most reissues. If I were just getting curious about "going mono" and wanted to buy a single cartridge to play all my mono LPs, the Miyajima Premium BE might just be the one.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Specialty item for the mono-loving audiophile.

Ortofon CadenzaPrice: $1120

Website: www.ortofon.com

Garrett said: The Cadenza Mono is a lively, dynamic, superbly detailed transducer that can render monaural music with great tonal intensity. Best put to use with mid- to late-1960s high-fidelity mono LPs or contemporary reissue pressings of classic releases, it dug deep into the microgrooves of these records, tracked them with steady precision, and presented an intense tonal beauty and a dynamic explosiveness that, once heard, I found hard to do without.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Specialized analog, but just the ticket if this is your thing.

Parasound Halo JC 3Price: $2350

Website: www.parasound.com

Pete said: John Curl and Parasound have done it again -- the Halo JC 3 is a worthy sibling to the other John Curl signature components of Parasound’s Halo line. I commend Parasound and Curl for transporting much of the legendary sonic achievements of the Vendetta phono stage across more than two decades and into such an accessible and cost-effective product. The Halo JC 3, with its absurdly reasonable price of $2350, sets the performance/price ratio ridiculously high.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Reference grade phono stage without being crazy priced.

Thorens TD 309Price: $1849.95 ($1899.95 in red)

Website: www.thorens.com

Ron said: I can’t put an entry-level price point for such a system, but I can say that, at its price, the Thorens TD 309 should not have too much competition. An excellent job all around.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Turntable with great style and sound for a fair price.

TW-Acustic Raven 10.5Price: $5500

Website: www.tw-acustic.de

Garrett said: The Raven arm had so much extension, pitch definition, and responsiveness that it could render very deep, complex bass with ease and superb musicality. It was more, umm, lifelike. And ain’t that the point? So I bought it. The Raven 10.5 tonearm is mine. If you have a turntable comparable to my Raven Two, I strongly suggest you consider making a Raven 10.5 yours as well.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Ain’t German engineering great?

Well Tempered Lab AmadeusPrice: $2850

Website: www.welltemperedlab.net

Jason said: Whichever way you slice it, the Well Tempered Lab Amadeus is a cohesive, well-made, wonderful-sounding turntable that’s worth every penny of its $2850 asking price. 

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: If you don’t mind a golf ball on your turntable . . .

Aura Note NeoPrice: $1795

Website: www.aprilmusic.com

Philip said: A buyer of the Aura separates will be treated to a highly engaging sound whose warmth, midrange clarity, and solid low end offer all the ingredients of a wholly involving listening experience. The fact that they also offer so much functionality and connectivity is just the icing on the cake. Some of their competitors would be wise to follow their example. 

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Lifestyle mixed with audiophile.

Arcam Solo rDacPrice: $479

Website: www.arcam.co.uk

Vince said: Arcam’s Solo rDac has exceeded my expectations for an inexpensive DAC. With a sleek silver-aluminum chassis and a single button on top, it’s a good-looking, easy-to-use audio component. Although I didn’t find that it significantly improved the performance of my Oppo Blu-ray player, its forte was playing music through its USB connection.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Asynchronous USB DAC that's a solid deal.

ARC DAC8Price: $4995

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Vade said: ARC’s DAC8 is a well-engineered, well-built machine that advances the state of the audio art and finally makes it possible to assemble a no-holds-barred, computer-based music server whose sound is competitive with just about anything -- which is just what I was looking for.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Sure to be a popular choice for computing audiophiles.

Auraliti PK100Price: $799

Website: www.auraliti.com

Vade said: If you haven’t yet begun using computer audio files because you’re uncomfortable with a computer, or don’t feel like buying an extra computer for storing and playing music files, the Auraliti PK100 is an easy, inexpensive way to get started -- and it has the legs to be used in an advanced high-resolution audio system.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: An inexpensive way to get into a standalone audiophile-oriented music server.

Ayre DX-5Price: $9950 in silver (add $250 for black)

Website: www.ayre.com

Pete said: Digital audio has never sounded better in my system than when I use Ayre Acoustics’ DX-5 as the source. Refined, resolving, musical, and engaging, the DX-5 is exactly what the doctor ordered: an electrifying performer and an unequivocal bargain, despite its price of nearly $10,000. The folks at Ayre have outdone themselves -- the DX-5 is better than their C-5xeMP at spinning audio discs, leagues ahead of their QB-9 for computer audio, and provides 2D images of unequaled quality, without the ailments typically inflicted on an audio system by the inclusion of video.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Maybe he best universal player yet.

Bel Canto Design e.One DAC2.5Price: $1995

Website: www.belcantodesign.com

Roger said: I can think of several very good DACs for about $1000 that have recently been recommended by SoundStage! Network reviewers. At twice that price, the Bel Canto e.One DAC2.5 might seem expensive in comparison. But when you consider that it includes a high-resolution digital volume control, analog input, and a Home Theater Bypass mode, its value becomes apparent. It can be used as the control center of a high-performance two-channel rig and still be easily integrated into a multichannel system. The e.One DAC2.5 offers a lot of performance and flexibility for $1995.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Digital control center for a high-quality, high-value system.

Blue Circle BC509Price: $1205

Website: www.bluecircle.com

Jason said: The BC509 dished out more depth and dynamics, more realism in the bass, and a silkier top end, and while each of these is small potatoes in isolation, together they cohered into a whole that, once again, sounded more like music.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Musical sounding, modestly priced DAC from Gilbert.

Bryston BDP-1Price: $2195

Website: www.bryston.com

Doug said: The BDP-1’s purpose wasn’t clear to me before it arrived, but it’s very clear now: the high-quality transfer of music data from an attached USB drive. That’s all it does, but it does it startlingly well and very easily.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Bryston is ahead of the field with their first music server.

Copland CDA825Price: $6500

Website: www.copland.dk

Michael said: For under $10,000, the Copland CDA825 is a formidable CD player. If you don’t have a lot of SACD or DVD-Audio discs, it should be on your short list of CD players to audition. If you play nothing but "Red Book" CDs, I highly recommend you give it a close listen. Its combination of excellent build quality, clever design, and utterly musical performance will make it a rewarding CD player to own.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: The high-end CD player lives on.

Esoteric K-03Price: $13,000

Website: www.esoteric.teac.com

Howard said: I’m giving the Esoteric K-03 a Reviewers’ Choice award, no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of high-end audio. In fact, it does so many things so well that if Esoteric told me that an amplifier, a pair of tower speakers, and 50 jazz CDs were jammed into its box, I almost wouldn’t be surprised. More important, the K-03 does all of these things at an uncommon level of performance.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: One of the best one-box digital players so far.

Eximus DP1Price: $2995

Website: www.aprilmusic.com

Doug said: Its appearance and build are fitting for a product at twice or even thrice the price; on the digital side, its rich feature set and thoroughly up-to-date technology approach the state of the art; and the DP1’s distinctive, lively, ultraclear sound -- whether it’s used as a DAC-preamp, an analog preamp, or a headphone amp -- is ridiculously good at the price.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Jewel-like build and sound.

Furutech Alpha Design Labs GT40Price: $525

Website: www.furutech.com

S. Andrea said: Other DAC/headphone amplifiers at about the GT40’s price support 24/96 files, but very few of them can also be used purely as a headphone amplifier -- and none, as far as I know, has a built-in phono stage. If you’re content to buy a GT40 for those features alone, $525 is not an unreasonable price for this level of performance. Of course, the GT40 also includes an ADC, which makes it a one-box solution for converting the output of your turntable into digital files. If you’re looking for a high-quality way to get high-quality sound out of your computer and want to digitize the occasional LP, then the Furutech GT40 is a really good choice.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: A Swiss Army Knife for the digital age.

Hegel HD10Price: $1200

Website: www.hegel.com

Doug said: If I weren’t a reviewer with an almost endless supply of new, often very expensive products trooping through my listening room -- stuff I couldn’t otherwise afford -- a sensibly priced, overachieving DAC such as the HD10 is exactly what I’d own. If you’re serious about sound and sensible about money, you, too, should look into it. 

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The specs don’t tell you how good this thing is.

Hegel HD2Price: $350

Website: www.hegel.com

Ron said: The Hegel Music Systems HD2 is the Swiss Army knife of high-end audio -- but imagine such a knife with a Kikuichi Yanagi sushi blade. For the absolutely sane price of $350, the HD2 would be a bargain even if it were only a DAC or a USB-to-S/PDIF converter. The fact that it does both more than competently makes it a real standout, especially when you consider the competition.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Low-priced DAC with a Norwegian twist.

HRT Music Streamer IIPrice: $149.95

Website: www.highresolutiontechnologies.com

Howard said: Technophiles will be amazed that the Music Streamer II makes good on High Resolution Technologies’ promise to bring asynchronous-mode, 24-bit/96kHz computer audio to the masses. Those on low budgets will appreciate that it’s an absolute steal for $149.95. Everyone else can simply revel in the fact that the MSII sounds great, and provides more fun than the time neighbor Bentley accidentally dropped his ant farm in George Jefferson’s living room. Highly recommended for those looking for an inexpensive DAC that can decode hi-rez files.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Good digital sound is getting cheaper and cheaper.

M2Tech YoungPrice: $1800

Website: www.m2tech.biz

Vade said: The M2Tech Young is a worthy entry at its price. Unlike most of its competition, it can play up to 32-bit/384kHz files, which should future-proof its design. Though you may find the sound of super-hi-rez recordings superior to 24/192 files, I can’t say I heard any improvement. Of more interest to me was how the Young sounded playing the computer audio files available today: rips of CDs and hi-rez downloads. With those, it sounded delightful, with a smooth response, beautiful tonal reproduction, and lots of detail.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The USB DAC for the highest sampling rates available.

MSB Technology UniversalPrice: $3995 plus power supply ($595-$4495)

Website: www.msbtech.com

Vade said: Everything about the UMT smacks of quality and attention to detail. It’s built like the proverbial brick outhouse, and considering how many functions it provides, it’s quite user friendly. The MSB UMT is a serious assault on the state of the transport art. Its price reflects that, but so does its sound. If you have deep pockets and a love for the finest audio equipment, and the finest sound, I urge you to audition the MSB Technology Universal Media Transport. 

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Oppo-based forward-thinking source component.

Oppo BDP-93Price: $499

Website: www.oppodigital.com

Wes said: Oppo has created another front-runner. When I reviewed the BDP-83, I wrote, “Oppo has come up with so many winners over the last five years that it’s starting to resemble a dynasty.” Let’s just go ahead and affirm that the transformation is now complete: Oppo is a dynasty.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Another knockout disc player from Oppo.

Simple Design SonorePrice: $1899

Website: www.sonore.us

Jeff said: We’ve crossed a bridge: Laptop and desktop computers are no longer the only thing to get if you seek the best sound from your music server. And audiophile-oriented companies are still doing what they’ve been doing for decades: taking something that reproduces sound and making it sound better. Simple Design is a company to watch, and their Sonore is a really good-sounding machine. I guess there’s no looking back now: Out goes the computer, in comes the music server.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Excellent standalone music server from a custom builder.

Wavelength ProtonPrice: $900

Website: www.usbdacs.com

Doug said: It’s difficult to heap enough praise on this $900 DAC without sounding like an employee of Wavelength’s PR firm. But if you want your digital recordings to thrill you the way you’re thrilled by a fantastic analog front end, while retaining everything that’s good about digital playback, the Proton is the least expensive way I know of to get there. It delivers ultra-high-end digital sound at a price that’s realistic for audiophiles who can’t consider products that cost many times as much.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: One of the best USB DACs from the company that helped create the genre.

YBA Design WD202Price: $879

Website: www.ybadesign.com

Doug said: While not perfect in every way, the YBA Design WD202 DAC is a good performer in a growing group of digital-to-analog converters in the $800-$1000 range. Its sound was articulate, enjoyable, and musical, with a slight bias toward a little extra romance, beauty, and warmth, and its input switching and variable volume control mean that it can be used as a DAC-preamp in an all-digital system.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: No hi-rez USB, but good sound for a fair-priced DAC.

Octave Audio V 40 SEPrice: $4900

Website: www.octave.de

Graham said: The Octave Audio V 40 SE is more than a bit special. It combines the grip and drive of a much more powerful amplifier with levels of transparency and detail that you’d be happy to find in a far more expensive product. It appeals to both the heart and head, and delivers a sound that modernizes traditional notions of what a tube amplifier at this price point can be and do.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The line between tubes and solid state continue to blur.

Aura GroovePrice: $1895

Website: www.aprilmusic.com

Philip said: A buyer of the Aura separates will be treated to a highly engaging sound whose warmth, midrange clarity, and solid low end offer all the ingredients of a wholly involving listening experience. The fact that they also offer so much functionality and connectivity is just the icing on the cake. Some of their competitors would be wise to follow their example. 

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Lifestyle mixed with audiophile.

Audia Flight TwoPrice: $5700

Website: www.audia.it

Randall said: It brought music alive in my room in a way that moved me. And that’s perhaps the highest compliment I can pay it. The Audia Flight Two is a great performer at a fair price, and one that I could enjoy listening to for a long, long time.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Not a Ferrari, but an Italian beauty nonetheless.

Audioengine N22Price: $199

Website: www.audioengineusa.com

Kevin said: The Audioengine N22 is a terrific little component and an incredible value. It's small, inexpensive, and ridiculously easy to use.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: The amp to get for a portable hi-fi system.

Blue Circle Audio KatlasPrice: $4500

Website: www.bluecircle.com

Michael said: The Katlas offers high-end performance at a price that won’t have you asking yourself What did I just do? I laud Blue Circle Audio for their accomplishment at the price -- every integrated amplifier I know of that’s as good costs more. Audiophiles who want to step up from mid-fi to high-end performance without breaking the bank should consider the Katlas. It deserves a very serious listen.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A standout in a crowded field?

Boulder 865Price: $12,500

Website: www.boulderamp.com

Randall said: The Boulder 865 is the most detailed and transparent integrated amplifier I’ve heard over the past year: Its highs and lows were impressively extended and detailed, and its midrange was very smooth and natural. If I were banished to a desert island and could bring only one integrated amplifier with me, the Boulder 865 would be it. It’s the best option I know of for someone who doesn’t want separates but still wants reference-grade sound.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A reference for integrated-amp performance.

Cambridge Azur 350APrice: $499

Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Roger said: Though most high-end audio manufacturers may have abandoned the budget market, Cambridge Audio continues to produce many products in this category, and have imbued their entry-level Azur 350A integrated amplifier with levels of performance and quality that belie its $499 price. If you're looking for an integrated amplifier for a modest yet still audiophile-approved system, the Azur 350A is an excellent choice.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Cambridge: Still catering to audiophiles with a solid integrated under five bills.

Densen Beat B-130Price: $3700

Website: www.densen.dk

Philip said: With its neutrality, transparency, and power, I think you’ll find your listening experience infused with the sort of energy and excitement that will remind you why you got into this hobby in the first place. Add the fact that it comes with a plethora of upgrade options and a lifetime warranty, and the B-130 could be the last integrated amplifier you’ll ever buy.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Unique features, sleek look, great sound.

Devialet D-PremierPrice: $15,995

Website: www.devialet.com

Doug said: This isn’t an integrated amplifier that just equals what separates can do, not to mention any integrated amplifier I’ve heard; it exceeds what they can do. Nor can you dismiss the D-Premier’s beautiful styling, excellent build quality, compact design, and easy operation. It’s the combination of all of that with outstanding sound that makes the D-Premier not only unique, but one of the very best products on the hi-fi scene today.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A landmark product.

Leema TucanaPrice: $4777

Website: www.leema-acoustics.com

Kevin said: Leema Electro Acoustics has done a really good job with the Tucana II. It’s a first-class component whose performance approaches that of some of the best integrated amplifiers out there. Such performance, however, comes at a price: $4777. But if you can afford it, and if you value ample power, excellent transparency, and clean sound across the audioband, then I highly recommend you listen to the Tucana II.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Another really good integrated amp in a crowded field of competitors.

Magnum Dynalab MD 309Price: $8750

Website: www.magnumdynalab.com

Colin said: The MD 309 is a superb integrated amplifier that, in the area of audio performance, must be one of the very best. Yes, the machine has quirks; but it can be forgiven some of these because, for its primary mission of the faithful reproduction of music, it was an excellent performer with nary a significant problem anywhere in the audioband. If all you care about are excellent sound and having enough power to de-orbit a small moon, then the Magnum Dynalab MD 309 is worth your serious consideration.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Battleship of an integrated.

Music Culture MC 701Price: $4495

Website: www.music-culture.com

Uday said: You may or may not have that problem, but if you’re in the market for a new integrated amplifier, I strongly urge you to consider the Elegance MC 701. It’s just that good. Even if you’re not in the market, check out this paradigm-shifting component, which achieves outstanding sound at a real-world price. Value just got redefined.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: MBL for the masses.

Pathos LogosPrice: $4795

Website: www.pathosacoustics.com

Graham said: The Logos is a very good integrated amplifier that has been engineered with care to a high standard of sound quality. I enjoyed it immensely, its innately musical soul never failed to please, and it looks better than an audio component has any right to.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: It looks as sweet as it sounds.

ARC LS27Price: $6995

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Howard said: The LS27 will thrill most audiophiles. It raises the bar for what should be expected from a preamp in its price class. Moreover, it may convince all the digital junkies and audio minimalists out there that they really do need a preamp after all. The fact that I’m giving the LS27 a Reviewers’ Choice award may not be entirely surprising, given that it’s made by Audio Research -- a company known for making great preamps.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Another knockout preamp from the company known for knockout preamps.

ARC Reference 5Price: $12,000

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Pete said: The Reference 5 is a superlative musical investment, an indisputable high-end bargain, and a fortification for another 40 years of audio excellence from Audio Research.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Should be on your shortlist for the best preamps extant.

Gryphon MiragePrice: $25,750

Website: www.gryphon-audio.dk

Jeff said: Describing the Gryphon Audio Designs Mirage and Colosseum as functional or industrial art, or some other such term, seems to minimize just how special they are. I prefer just art. They will grace a listening room with sculptural beauty, provide tactile pleasure in use, and make your music sound as real as reproduced music can. I simply adored them. If you have the money, seek them out for audition, even if you have to travel across land and sea to do so. You’ll be richly rewarded by the experience, in the ways that only great art can reward.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Simply reference-class in every way.

Herron Audio VTSP-3APrice: $6850

Website: www.herronaudio.com

Ryan said: The Herron VTSP-3A line stage did nothing objectionable, and for that I have terrific respect for it. Its sins were more of omission than the more annoying ones of commission. It did its job of controlling source selection, mono/stereo, phase, and volume in the most unobtrusive ways, while providing an uncolored reproduction of the signal with the convenience of a full-function remote. It was a delight to use on a daily basis, and seems engineered to last. Sonically, it gave up little to the best out there (mostly in macrodynamic swings and presence-region voicing), and let me hear what the rest of my components sound like. It would be at home in a system of any cost, but whether you prefer the VTSP-3A or one of its competitors will depend on how much you want to hear your line stage. You won’t be hearing the Herron.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Just really good performance all around.

JE Audio VL10.1Price: $5000

Website: www.je-audio.com

Doug said: I love how the JE Audio VL10.1 preamplifier sounds in my system. It’s one of the few products in recent memory that has thrilled me -- partly because of its great build quality, but mostly because of its incredible sound, which is quite unlike that of any other preamp I’ve heard. When it comes to the pleasure of listening to music, right now I’ll choose the VL10.1 over anything else.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A great value in a reference tubed preamp.

Lamm LL2.1 DeluxePrice: $5990

Website: www.lammindustries.com

Doug said: What I thoroughly enjoyed about listening with the LL2.1 Deluxe was that my attention didn’t dart from one performance parameter to the next, as it does with many audiophile components. Instead, the Lamm presented music so cohesively and convincingly, with so exceptionally natural and thoroughly engaging sound, that I easily lost myself in the music, largely ignoring the nitpicky things that so worry audiophiles -- and especially reviewers. Not many components can do this for me.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: There’s just something intrinsically right about Lamm gear.

Marantz Reference SC-7S2Price: $6499.99

Website: www.marantz.com

Howard said: Being the offspring of Marantz’s classic Model 7 preamplifier and Model 9 amplifier, the Reference SC-7S2 and Reference MA-9S2 have some rather large shoes to fill. By my account they do just that, and the folks at Marantz appear to be worthy stewards of the historic company name. If you’re looking for a pair of amps and/or a preamp anywhere near or even above these models’ asking prices, you’ll want to head to your local Marantz Reference dealer to give them a listen.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Classic company produces an updated Model 7.

Purity Audio Design ReferencePrice: $8895

Website: www.purityaudiodesign.com

Michael said: The Reference drew from recordings a great deal of detail and information, but it also made me want to just sit back and be entertained -- it let me connect with the music. If you’re looking for a preamplifier at or anywhere near $9000, Purity Audio Design’s Purity Reference should be on your short list.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: A reference tube preamp from a newcomer on the scene.

Simaudio Moon 350PPrice: $2500; add $500 for DAC and phono option

Website: www.simaudio.com

Doug said: Simaudio’s Moon 350P is a high-performance stereo preamplifier for the audiophile masses -- the kind of preamp that many people can aspire to own and can reasonably afford. Its $2500 base price is very fair, and $500 is little to ask for the options of a phono stage and DAC.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Plain-looking, good-sounding preamp.

Atma-Sphere M-60 Mk.3.1Price: $6950 per pair

Website: www.atma-sphere.com

Vade said: Atma-Sphere has improved the input circuit to reduce distortion, which has resulted in a sweeter, less mechanical sound. I like it a lot. If I didn’t already own Atma-Sphere’s S-30 Mk.3, I’d be sorely tempted to send in a check for the M-60 Mk.3.1s.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Nothing between you and the music -- not even a transformer.

Bel Canto e.One REF150SPrice: $1595

Website: www.belcantodesign.com

Aron said: The Bel Canto e.One REF150S is the most musical amplifier I have heard south of $5000, with the exceptions of its bigger brothers, the REF500S and REF500M. If you’re in the market for a wonderfully musical two-channel amplifier that offers tremendous value and performance, rock-solid build quality, and uses a minimal amount of power, you owe it to yourself to audition Bel Canto’s e.One REF150S.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Clean, small, efficient -- should be a good fit for a compact system.

Coda Technologies 15.0Price: $10,000

Website: www.coda-continuum.com

Jeff said: The Coda Technologies 15.0 is one heckuva piece of US-made hardware. I would confidently put the 15.0 in any system at any price and feel certain that it would hold its own. It’s that good. It has plenty of brute-force drive, as well as that golden tone that only class-A amps seem to deliver. It is ultra-resolving of fine detail, yet can handle huge dynamic swings without breaking a sweat. And it’s evenhanded across the audioband, but can also sound magical in specific areas, based on the recording.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: The Coda 15.0 is a great amp. Period.

Gryphon ColosseumPrice: $43,500

Website: www.gryphon-audio.dk

Jeff said: Describing the Gryphon Audio Designs Mirage and Colosseum as functional or industrial art, or some other such term, seems to minimize just how special they are. I prefer just art. They will grace a listening room with sculptural beauty, provide tactile pleasure in use, and make your music sound as real as reproduced music can. I simply adored them. If you have the money, seek them out for audition, even if you have to travel across land and sea to do so. You’ll be richly rewarded by the experience, in the ways that only great art can reward.

Select Component

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Simply reference-class in every way.

Hegel H20Price: $5750

Website: www.hegel.com

Michael said: It’s refreshing to come across a company that makes affordable gear that competes head-to-head with the expensive offerings from better-known names. I recommend it as highly as almost anything else I’ve ever reviewed.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: One of the best amps to get under $6000.

Marantz Reference MA-9S2Price: $11,999.98 per pair

Website: www.marantz.com

Howard said: Being the offspring of Marantz’s classic Model 7 preamplifier and Model 9 amplifier, the Reference SC-7S2 and Reference MA-9S2 have some rather large shoes to fill. By my account they do just that, and the folks at Marantz appear to be worthy stewards of the historic company name. If you’re looking for a pair of amps and/or a preamp anywhere near or even above these models’ asking prices, you’ll want to head to your local Marantz Reference dealer to give them a listen.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The Model 9 improved.

NuForce Reference 18Price: $7600 per pair

Website: www.nuforce.com

Tim said: To be sure, the Reference 18 has some worthy competitors at its not-insubstantial price level of $7600/pair, but they had better bring along their “A” game in any shoot-out with this outstanding class-D amp. Biases be damned.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Reference amps at a real-world price.

Simaudio Moon 400MPrice: $6500 per pair

Website: www.simaudio.com

Doug said: $6500 isn’t cheap, and the 400M’s looks aren’t exceptional -- but lurking beneath their plain surfaces is an outstanding-sounding, high-powered amplifier whose performance is something special. If you dream of owning Simaudio Moon Evolution components but, like most of us, can’t afford them, look to the Moon 400M -- it delivers Evolution-like sound at a reasonable price.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Nondescript but great-sounding mono amps.

VAC Phi 200Price: $9990

Website: www.vac-amps.com

Garrett said: Kevin Hayes has come up with something very special in the Phi 200: a tubed stereo amplifier with the speed, grip, and top-end extension of solid-state, yet with the flow, sparkle, and treble sweetness of tubes. At a retail price of $9990 it's a serious high-end investment, but it deserves to be considered by anyone who's interested in the cutting edge of audio engineering.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Stereo amp that seems to produce the best of both the tube and solid-state worlds.

Anthem MRX 500Price: $1500

Website: www.anthemav.com

Vince said: When I first fired up the Anthem MRX 500, I thought it a good receiver with a great pedigree, from a company that has produced highly regarded surround-sound processors. After setting up and using its built-in Anthem Room Correction, I think the MRX 500 is a fantastic receiver worth every penny of its price. Even if Anthem charged twice as much for the MRX 500, I would still think the price fair -- because of ARC. The fact that the MRX 500 lists for only $1500 makes it a genuine bargain among home-theater receivers, and therefore the one to get.

Great Buy

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The best room correction in a receiver for under two grand.

Anthem MRX 700Price: $1999

Website: www.anthemav.com

Wes said: Effortless. Muscular. Coherent. Stable. Rock-solid. Sound like what you’re looking for? The Anthem MRX 700 immediately leaps to the top of the marketplace for home-theater receivers. Don’t miss it.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Anthem conquered processors, receivers are apparently next.

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