Price: $795 per pair
Ron said: Anthony Gallo Acoustics’ Classico CL-2 is a reasonably priced, well-made bookshelf loudspeaker that, while requiring a bit more tweaking than I’m accustomed to, gave a very good account of itself, presenting a wide, spacious soundstage with very good to excellent imaging cues. Though not a detailmeister, it was quite pleasant to listen through, finding the “good” in even questionable recordings.
The gist: Classic round sound from a box speaker.
Price: $790 per pair
Hans said: It’s an attractive and thoughtfully designed package that purports to be nothing other than what it is. It forgoes deep bass to focus on producing an expansive, evenhanded sound with admirable imaging. And with its ten-year warranty on drivers and 30-day guarantee, with free shipping both ways, the interested listener can sample a pair without risk. Bearing in mind Aperion’s return rate of less than 5%, the odds heavily favor the 5T making only a one-way trip.
The gist: Very nice little floorstander for the money.
Price: $399 per pair
Hans said: In juggling many considerations in its 5+, Audioengine has contrived to not drop one. As well executed as it is well designed, this attractive bookshelf speaker is a thoroughly practical product that worked, and worked well, practically right out of the box. You could spend the same amount of money on a pair of passive bookshelf speakers and perhaps get better sound. You could invest in an identically priced pair of active speakers and get similar sound. But the 5+ combines quality sound with an attractiveness and remote-controlled, multiple-input convenience that separates it from its competitors. Emphatically recommended.
The gist: The powered monitor to beat at its price.
Price: $2998 per pair
Roger said: When I reviewed the Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower loudspeaker, I was impressed by how good it sounded, especially considering its slim, good looks. I was even more impressed by the excellent performance of Definitive’s new BP-8080ST SuperTower. By any standard, both are exceptional speakers. Those who might dismiss the Mythos STS because of its “lifestyle” look will miss out on a great speaker. Those who might dismiss the BP-8080ST because of its bipolar design or other reasons will miss out on an even better one.
The gist: Big speaker, big sound, not-so-big price.
Price: $398 per pair
Roger said: The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 45 is an excellent combination of performance and value in an entry-level loudspeaker. It offers a clean midrange, and smooth high frequencies that provide a high level of performance and musicality. It also has enough bass and power-handling capability to play loud enough when my listening sessions get a bit rowdy. All of this is packaged in an attractive bookshelf design at the ridiculously low price of $199 each.
The gist: Ridiculous value for money.
Price: $598 per pair
Philip said: If you like solid bass, clear-cut imaging, and a clean, open midrange, but don’t have the room and/or the money for bigger speakers, Definitive Technology’s StudioMonitor 55 could be what you’ve been waiting for. It does many things well for the audiophile on a budget, and doesn’t take a back seat to speakers costing even multiples of its price.
The gist: Sound quality unheard of at this price just a few years ago.
Price: $2450 per pair
Brooke said: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Dynaudio Focus 110 A. It offered a beguiling combination of smoothness, accuracy, and transient speed with low-end extension and dynamic capabilities that belied its small size. The price of $2450/pair is reasonable for what the Focus 110 A does, but the fact that the speaker includes four channels of amplification tailor-made for the drive-units they’re connected to makes them a relative bargain.
The gist: Very good all-around powered monitor from a speaker-making powerhouse.
Price: $4900 per pair
Aron said: It has proven to be a highly dynamic, emotive model that offers a great deal of innovative technology and quality engineering in a compact package. The combination of uncanny bass control, velvety midrange, and top-end sweetness is as addictive as melted chocolate on a New York cheesecake.
The gist: Maybe Dynaudio’s greatest strength is in their mid-sized floorstanders.
Price: $2300 per pair
Jeff said: The Xeo 3 system is about functionality. It’s also an impressive technology whose time seems to have come. Dynaudio has combined excellent sound quality, good build quality, good looks, and versatility with the technical demands of the day. Listeners now have a viable option for ridding themselves of all those components and tangles of cable cluttering their entertainment centers. The Xeo 3 is a standard-setting system.
The gist: Powered, wireless, and really good.
Price: $2200 per pair
Ron said: The Elemental Designs EL8.3t impresses both visually and sonically, should earn additional points by some for having the temerity to be made here in the good ol’ US of A, is constructed with environmentally friendly materials, and is large enough that even non-audiophile friends won’t doubt that a pair is worth its eminently reasonable price of $2200.
The gist: A good basic floorstander.
Price: $469 per pair
Thom said: The Fluance XL7F is an incredible value that’s worth every cent of $469.99/pair -- and far more. In fact, Fluance could easily raise the speaker’s price by quite a bit and still be offering the deal of the year.
The gist: Just a stupid-good-value Internet-direct speaker.
Price: $1599 per pair
Philip said: The pair of them sounded wonderful with all varieties of music, and did a very good job of extracting detail without sounding too dry or analytical. If you’re in the market for new speakers and want something that will make a bold visual statement while bringing your music collection to life, listen to a pair of Focal’s Chorus 807 W Prestiges.
The gist: Trickle-down loudspeaker technology at its best.
Price: $4499 per pair
Doug said: Focal’s Chorus 836 W Prestige is a distinctively styled, wonderfully voiced speaker that offers plenty of performance for its price. It’s a very good deal.
The gist: Focal’s version of the high-value floorstander.
Price: $999.98 per pair
Doug said: Through clever engineering, the GoldenEar designers have created a speaker that plays bigger than its compact enclosure suggests, and sounds far more natural, detailed, and refined than most would think possible, given the low price and disparate drivers. I could praise many of the Aon 3’s qualities -- its effortless highs and ample bass, its finely detailed and natural midrange, its astonishingly spacious soundstage -- but what bowled me over was how well the outputs of its tweeter, midrange-woofer, and passive radiators integrated to create a big yet sophisticated sound that can compare with those of well-designed speakers at much higher prices.
The gist: An affordable stand-mount speaker that sounds like something larger and more expensive.
Price: $2000 per pair
Hans said: With a peach of a folded-ribbon tweeter and a powered bass section that should obviate the need of a subwoofer for all but the most depraved bass junkies, the Triton Three is as forgiving of low-powered amps as of harsh recordings. It won’t move heaven and earth in quite the manner that some other reviewers have claimed, but for $2000/pair, I’m not sure you can buy a more complete loudspeaker.
The gist: Solid-value speakers for two grand.
Price: $2599.98 per pair
Doug said: The KEF R500 is a great-sounding loudspeaker by any measure. The fact that its price is so low simply makes it all that much better.
The gist: Profound performance for the price.
Price: $2195 per pair
Hans said: The ElectroMotion ESL is the gateway product to MartinLogan’s more expensive electrostatic designs, and it’s easy to hear why they’ve stubbornly stood by the design, much in the way Mazda stood by its idiosyncratic rotary engine. Like the Wankel, the ElectroMotion isn’t perfect, but its qualities are manifest to my ears. There is no other product like it at or near its $2195/pair price. I suspect that many listeners who hear it will then find more traditional speaker designs to be irrelevant.
The gist: If you can’t afford a larger ‘Logan.
Price: $1900 per pair
Philip said: The Motion 40 is an exciting speaker, due in no small part to its upfront sound, meaty bass, and clear highs. While some listeners might not appreciate that kind of character, others will enjoy the fact that it holds nothing back, and has an amazing ability to grab the attention with its more in-your-face sound. Combine that with its wonderful fit and finish and nice attention to detail, and I expect MartinLogan’s new Motion 40 will generate considerable interest in the under-$2000 market.
The gist: Gateway-into-MartinLogan-sound-type product.
Price: $2195 per pair
Philip said: Not only does the GX100 look like a piece of fine furniture, it sounds superlative from top to bottom. Based on my experience, it is a true reference product; that is, someone will have to spend significantly more for only small improvements in performance. I found its sound highly engaging, and capable of holding my interest. I was able to sustain my utter enthusiasm for its sound for long periods without ever getting fatigued.
The gist: Superbly finished ribbon-based minimonitor.
Price: $239 per pair
Rad said: If you don’t spend that much time at the computer, the Classic One might entice you to do so. You can’t judge Orb speakers by their sizes. They have a lot to offer, and at prices most people can afford. It’s champagne on a beer budget. A big thumbs up!
The gist: Better than your average computer speaker.
Hans said: For one who abhors hyperbole, I’m left with only one conclusion: Paradigm’s Millenia CT is exceptional. This conveniently sized and carefully conceived system doesn’t merely hint at high-end sound -- it actually provides it. If what I’ve written thus far isn’t convincing enough, then perhaps my actions will speak more clearly: I’m buying my review sample.
The gist: Compact yet powerful 2.1 system that’s priced right.
Price: $1499.90 per pair
Roger said: With the LSiM703, Polk has rediscovered their audiophile roots. Not only does it sound very good; it’s also well built, its curved cabinet is attractive in its real-wood veneer, and it’s available at a reasonable price for all that it offers. If you’re in the market for a high-quality, full-size bookshelf loudspeaker, the Polk LSiM703 deserves your consideration.
The gist: New-generation Polk line is their best yet.
Price: $2999.90 per pair
Ron said: The Polk LSiM705 is a very good loudspeaker that, at $2999.90/pair, is also a high-value bargain, especially in terms of craftsmanship, build quality, and pleasing visual design. I found it also to be, more often than not, a very good-sounding speaker
The gist: New-generation Polks may be the best from them yet.
Price: $760 per pair in Walnut, Dark Cherry, and Black Ash veneers; $830 per pair in High Gloss Black and High Gloss White
Roger said: Supremely refined sound at a reasonable price: the PSB Imagine Mini is an incredible audio bargain.
The gist: Little guy with a big heart.
Price: $3500-$3850 per pair, depending on finish
Doug said: Don’t let the Imagine T2’s modest cabinet size fool you: In my large room, the PSBs had a big, spacious, fleshed-out sound that belied their size, along with bass reach that could put to shame larger speakers at much higher prices. I was also taken with their superb imaging and the vast soundstage. But what most impressed me was the T2’s supersmooth midrange, in conjunction with very extended and airy highs that never sounded fatiguing.
The gist: A class-leading small floorstander at a very fair price.
Price: $699 per pair
Sathyan said: With their faithful midrange reproduction, accurate imaging, and small size, the little Minuet Supreme Pluses could easily find a niche as hi-fi replacements for computer speakers, as well as in traditional stereo, multichannel, and home-theater systems.
The gist: Another good monitor speaker.
Price: $2400 per pair
Jeff said: The D4M was superlative with tubed and entry-level solid-state amplification, with CDs and with lossless digital files. I heard no flaws: It managed to retrieve the maximum amount of information from each recording, and deliver music with a flowing, nonfatiguing continuity, song after song after song.
The gist: Big monitor, factory direct, really good sound.
Price: $8500 per pair
Tim said: I’ve heard excellent speakers that would please any obsessive-compulsive audiophile, and others that make such beautiful music that they can bring grown men to tears. The EgglestonWorks Fontaine Signature is that rarity among loudspeakers: It does both, and without dominating your room while doing so. Growing up does have its advantages.
The gist: Can't afford but want an Andra? Get these and add a sub.
Price: $5500 per pair
Aron said: The more time I spent with the Gold GX300s, the more I came to appreciate their distinctive tonal purity and dynamic range, and their uncanny ability to breathe life into pretty much any recording. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Gold GX300. I can’t help but give it my highest recommendation.
The gist: This ribbon-based speaker is a real contender at its price.
Price: $5999 per pair
Doug said: My first impressions of the PMC twenty.24’s appearance and sound were positive, and throughout the course of the review I grew to like them even more. I ended up liking them enough that if I were in the market for yet another pair of speakers, these are the ones I’d buy; partly for the way they look, but mostly for how they sound. Once I had the twenty.24s set up correctly, I was rewarded with a well-balanced, near-full-range sound that made long-term listening a joy. I suspect that if you audition the twenty.24s and like what you hear from the outset, you probably won’t tire of them in the long run. I didn’t.
The gist: A speaker that marks 20 years in business for PMC must be special.
Price: $5995 per pair
Doug said: As I wrap up this review, I’m listening to Stars and Satellites, the latest album from Trampled by Turtles. I’m mesmerized by how natural the banjo sounds. It’s as if I’m listening to my own banjo being played by someone else. This doesn’t happen very often -- it takes a loudspeaker that gets everything right to sound this convincing.
I love the sound of the Vandersteen Treo.
The gist: Reasonably priced high end lives on.
Price: $10,000 per pair
Uday said: Von Schweikert Audio’s VR-35 Export Deluxe is a remarkable loudspeaker. It performed wonderfully, handling all musical genres with aplomb. I recently heard VSA’s new VR-44 model at T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, California, and the VR-35 definitely has the DNA and house sound of the company’s other models: carefully executed engineering resulting in little sonic compromise, to achieve a sound worthy of any audiophile’s expectations.
The gist: If room placement is an issue, this could be the speaker for you.
Price: $23,000 per pair
Michael said: The competition for speakers at that price level is fierce. The Artos Sunrise is not only beautiful to look at and built to a demanding standard, it’s a joy to listen to. Those facts alone mean that it should provide its owner with pride of ownership and musical enjoyment for years to come.
The gist: Another nice Accuton-based loudspeaker.
Price: $15,000 per pair
Aron said: You absolutely must hear the 802 Diamond before you buy anything. Once you’ve seen it, you won’t be able to deny the amount of R&D, technology, manufacturing, quality, and refinement you get for only $15,000/pair. And when you’ve heard it, there will be no question that the 802 Diamond competes not only with its peers, but with loudspeakers costing as much as 50% more.
The gist: Another classic value in this flagship series from B&W.
Price: $25,000 per pair including stands
Pete said: Crystal Cable’s three core principles are technical proficiency, fanatical attention to musicality, and elegant, attractive visual design. My time with the Arabesque Mini proved to me that Gabi van der Kley continues to succeed in imbuing her products with all three. Content to maximize the inherent strengths of a compact two-way speaker, Crystal Cable exudes confidence in its Arabesque Mini. They’ve neither tried to squeeze a full-range speaker into a small cabinet, nor pretended to fill large spaces with unrealistic SPLs. Instead, they focused their attention on superb musicality, and the composure and coherence such a focus requires. Mission accomplished. The Arabesque Mini is a beautiful success.
The gist: A jewel-like monitor for the discriminating listener.
Price: $15,000 per pair
Jeff said: Dynaudio’s Confidence C2 Signature occupies an interesting place in the high-end marketplace. But as I said at the outset, it is a Dynaudio, and that means something. The Danish firm has long been a pioneer in the loudspeaker industry -- the Esotar tweeter alone, in all its iterations, has seen to that -- and its followers are legion. My listening experience of it in the Music Vault revealed not one thing that would tarnish that reputation.
The gist: Souped-up version of a very well-regarded loudspeaker.
Price: $26,500 per pair including stands
Pete said: In reducing Magico’s Q series to its essence in a two-way stand-mount, the Q1 performs its own magic trick, unfolding what in lesser monitors remains miasma. Almost shocking in its ability to exceed expectations, it left agape the mouths of a string of visitors to my listening room. The visceral results ranged from tormenting to thrashing to unexpected, beckoning depths, but were most notable when the Q1s reproduced bass passages, from orchestral crescendos to hard-rock drum kits. My time with the Magico Q1s is over, but they are not forgotten. They have left on my ears an indelible mark.
The gist: Perhaps the best stand-mount speaker in the world.
Price: $165,000 per pair
Jeff said: For right now, we all have to live with these facts: The Q7 is very expensive. It’s very big. It comes only in black. And it’s the best loudspeaker available today.
The gist: If you want the best, buy these.
Price: $28,000 per pair
Jeff said: The Raidho Acoustics C2.1 is a high-resolution, maximum-articulation transducer that delivered sound in a wholly digestible way that will suit more people than not. It could wow me with its ability to resolve fine detail, but it never fatigued me over the long haul. And its great sound comes in a handsome package that will nicely suit most rooms in which the C2.1s might be placed.
The gist: Excellent small floorstander perfect for hi-rez music.
Price: $50,000 per pair
Doug said: The Giya G2 is not only the best loudspeaker I’ve ever reviewed, it’s the best loudspeaker I’ve ever heard. It may be the best loudspeaker in the world.
The gist: Cleary one of the top loudspeakers available at any price.
Price: $49,000 per pair
Howard said: In most real-world applications -- i.e., those that don't require stupid SPLs -- the Kipod II Signature will redefine what the buyer thinks is possible in the art of reproducing music. It may even convince some that YGA's claim that it's the best speaker on Earth is not as audacious as it may seem. It's just that good. Period. And exclamation mark!
The gist: He bought them.
Kevin said: The Epic 60•500 isn’t something you’ll like for a while, then start finding nits to pick about. It’s a keeper. If you audition this system, I don’t think you’ll even dream of taking advantage of Axiom’s 30-day return offer -- and I suggest you audition the Epic 60•500 system as soon as possible, if not sooner.
The gist: All about all-around HT performance.
Kevin said: The Fluances are lovely to look at, sound terrific, and redefine the notion of affordable audio. And if you don’t like ’em, Fluance offers a full refund: a 30-day, no-questions-asked guarantee. But you’ll like them -- that’s my guarantee.
The gist: Is that price right? Yes!
Vince said: Paradigm’s Monitor Series 7 home-theater system is a step up in performance from the previous Monitor Series, with improvements that include new and better drivers, a new configuration for the surround speakers, and surprising subwoofer performance from a small package.
The gist: If you value performance over style in your HT.
Vince said: On its own, without the Perfect Bass Kit or the PT-2 Wireless Transmitter, Paradigm’s Series 7 Monitor Sub 12 was a reasonably good subwoofer that performed as well as other subs in its price range; I have no reason to dissuade you from buying one. But two Sub 12s with PBK and PT-2 made an exceptional combo. The depth of bass, the transient performance, and all the features such as wireless transmission and room correction put it in a higher class, and that makes it one of the best options at the price available today.
The gist: A good sub made even better with great accessories.
Michael said: If you’re not ready to take a big leap into high-priced analog sound, the DP-Drive is an affordable alternative. It’s a minimalist design, it sounds good, and it’s well built -- a good value that should find a home in many mid-priced analog rigs.
The gist: Solid but not extravagant basic phono stage.
S. Andrea said: I was thoroughly impressed with the performance of the Musical Fidelity M1ViNL. It’s the cleanest, clearest phono preamplifier I’ve heard in my system. Those qualities allowed me to hear more fine detail than I could have imagined from records I thought I knew well. If you’ve ever had any doubts about vinyl’s potential for being a high-resolution medium, the M1ViNL should help to dispel them.
The gist: Excellent phono-stage performance and an even better value.
Ron said: With the Zphono.USB Parasound has created a niche product that, for audiophiles and music collectors of a certain age -- or any age, for that matter -- may prove supremely useful. As a phono stage it hits way above average, and if offered alone would be exceptional value for the price. Actually, it is offered alone, in the form of the original Zphono (still available for $200). Consider the inclusion of the flexible, high-quality A/D converter as almost a gift. This is a smart, sensible, well-made product that makes it fun to be in this hobby.
The gist: Analog to digital done right and cheap.
Graham said: At $12,000, the Moon Evolution 810LP phono preamplifier is not the cheapest way to create an entirely convincing musical event in my listening room, but to my ears it’s the best way. In it, Simaudio has created an effortlessly musical and utterly transparent window through which audiophiles can listen to and, more important, connect with their music. The word reference may continue to relentlessly rain down, but for me, the Moon Evolution 810LP will continue to be the parade.
The gist: As good as it gets for analog.
Hans said: It’s a chameleon of a digital-to-analog converter, lending no personality of its own to the signals it decodes, and going on to reproduce sound of not only exceedingly high resolution, but sound that is exceedingly musical. Its modest chassis conceals first-rate levels of performance, and I suspect it will hold its own against much more expensive components from the industry’s top names. Highly, highly recommended.
The gist: State-of-the-art DAC in a modest chassis.
Vade said: The DSPre did full justice to ARC’s reputation for superb sound, and did so without using tubes. It sounded fantastic, looked great, and was easy to use. Equally important, it would save space and money over separate components. If I didn’t need a separate DAC and line stage to pursue my reviewer’s craft, I’d gladly live with the ARC DSPre. Easily a Reviewers’ Choice.
The gist: An excellent DAC and preamp that happens to be in one box.
Doug said: The Audioengine D2 is not only one of the most innovative products I’ve reviewed in a long time, it’s also one of the best. The fact that it’s so affordably priced makes this game-changing DAC all that much easier to buy. Highly recommended for those who want excellent sound quality and the convenience of wireless transmission.
The gist: Yes, you can get great performance and wireless connectivity all in the same DAC.
Doug said: Another word that seems to describe the Femto’s sound is pure. All told, there was never anything objectionable about that sound, and its extreme resolution allowed me to simply hear more of what my recordings already contained. In fact, every piece of music I played through the Femto sounded better than it ever had before -- which is why I have to say that this is the best-sounding (and best-looking) DAC I’ve ever heard.
The gist: A $20,000 DAC for $6850.
Doug said: Calyx’s DAC 24/192 is a beautifully built, elegantly styled digital-to-analog converter that sounded exceedingly neutral and utterly clean in my system. It’s also capable of very high resolution that’s just shy of the very best -- I wouldn’t hesitate to partner it with some of the finest equipment out there, regardless of price.
The gist: Maybe the DAC to match your Mac Mini.
Vince said: For only $650 you get a digital preamp, a headphone amp, and a truly excellent DAC -- and being able to listen to 24-bit/192kHz tracks through the DacMagic Plus was a mesmerizing experience. If you’re looking for a DAC, even if only to add a USB connection to your system, it would be worth your while to check out the Swiss Army Knife of DACs: the Azur DacMagic Plus. It may get you thinking up new ways to configure your audio system and listen to music -- always a good thing.
The gist: Heck-of-a-value DAC with tons of flexibility.
Vince said: The Stream Magic 6 occupies a unique position in the audio world in being three components in one: a DAC, a streamer, and a digital preamp. Usually, when a component is designed to do so much, it falls flat on its face by not doing anything particularly well. Not so the Stream Magic 6 -- it fulfills its promise as a high-quality DAC, a high-quality digital preamp, and a high-quality streamer by sounding phenomenal in all three functions.
The gist: Jack-of-all-trades and master of many.
Philip said: If you’ve got the money to even consider buying the HD20, you should do just that: consider it. Its simple, unassuming appearance conceals a veritable tour de force of DAC design whose unerring musicality may elevate the sound of your system.
The gist: There's something about that Hegel sound . . .
Thom said: Do I like the Music Streamer II+? Let’s put it this way: I dare anyone to try to pry it from my system. For me, it’s a nearly perfect audio component: It’s unobtrusive, it offers high performance, it can play digital resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz, and it’s a steal of a deal at $350.
The gist: Streaming 24/96 for a song.
Uday said: When a SoundStage! Hi-Fi reviewer evaluates an exceptional component, it receives the accolade of Reviewers’ Choice. I love the Meitner MA-1 so much that I’m putting my money down and making it my choice for my new digital reference.
The gist: Awesome DAC from a certified digital guru.
Hans said: The M1DAC offers a compelling amalgam of connectivity, technical performance, and musicality. A multitude of D/A converters are available for less than $1000, and while many of them are adept, the pedigree and dulcet nature behind the M1DAC’s faceplate make it a worthy contender for the budget conscious.
The gist: Another nice DAC among the multitudes.
S. Andrea said: What the Masters M51 offers is a sound that’s smooth, laid-back, and always pleasant, no matter what you throw at it. Its slight favoring of the midrange imbues the sound with just a hint of extra warmth. For many listeners, such a combination is a recipe for audio bliss.
The gist: Unique sound that some, if not all, will find just right.
Graham said: The NuForce DAC-9 is one of those all-too-infrequent products that is a true giant-killer, and whose performance must have put a collective smile on the faces of those who designed and built it. At its full retail price of $1695, I think NuForce offers consumers a stonking good deal.
The gist: A great DAC need not cost five grand.
Vince said: I highly recommend the NuForce uDAC-2 as a travelling companion for you and your laptop -- it will give hours of pleasant headphone listening, and, in a pinch, will also serve as a smooth-sounding D/A converter, albeit with limitations in terms of resolution and detail retrieval. I found its overall sound quality to be satisfying and nonfatiguing. And the fact that the uDAC-2 is USB-powered and fits in the palm of the hand makes it ideal for music on the go.
The gist: Shouldn’t every audiophile have one?
S. Andrea said: The result is a sound that is very clean and hi-rez without ever feeling forced. More than any of its other virtues, it is this smooth, relaxed character that sets the Invicta apart from its competition, and that I believe will win it a large following.
The gist: DAC with adjustable sound and a good built-in headphone amp.
Doug said: What sets the 650D apart isn’t so much its build quality or features (though those are very good) as its distinctive sound, which is like nothing else I’ve heard. The 650D was able to resolve the finest details -- it’s hyper-revealing -- with the most musical and nonfatiguing sound I’ve heard from any digital source. The 650D’s soul is as analog as it is digital.
The gist: A modern digital reference.
Hans said: The UD-H01’s sound quality is commensurate with its price. And when you consider that it also offers an asynchronous USB input, XLR outputs, and a headphone amplifier, and that its Swiss Army Knife flexibility makes it suitable for a wide variety of applications, the overall package becomes much more compelling. The UD-H01 could prove to be a product that will grow along with listeners as their listening habits evolve. In that sense, it’s an ideal gateway product to high-fidelity audio.
The gist: Pretty good DAC for the money.
Vade said: A Reviewers’ Choice award for the Aurender is a no-brainer, but I think it deserves to be a Recommended Reference Component. In my view, the Aurender S10 advances the state of the digital art.
The gist: Best of breed.
Vade said: Wyred 4 Sound continues its tradition of bringing the latest technology to market at extremely reasonable prices. I wouldn’t call their products cheap, but their value-to-dollar ratio is off the scale. The MS-1 music server sounded superb, was user-friendly, and wouldn’t look out of place in the priciest audio system -- which pretty much checks all the boxes on my list.
The gist: High-value all-around-good music server.
Roger said: For $1895, this is a sweet little component that I won’t hesitate to recommend for its excellent combination of price, performance, and convenience in a compact, well-thought-out package.
The gist: All-in-one high-end sound.
Uday said: Esoteric’s Master Sound Works I-03 is a solid performer with excellent build quality and ergonomics and enough power to drive all but the most power-hungry speakers. It does many things very well and has no glaring weaknesses.
The gist: Expensive integrated amp that delivers the sound of separates.
Hans said: Quiet, deeply resolving, thoughtfully connective and functional, and operated with a remote control that looks and feels as if designed specifically for it -- a rarity, in my experience -- its performance is almost as impressive as its price. The H300’s evolved neutrality of sound and unified design pay full homage to the philosopher for which it’s named. Simply put, the H300 is superb in every way. Consider the bar raised.
The gist: One of the very best deals in high-end electronics.
Hans said: In aggregate, the M6 500i has qualities that I think would appeal to an array of listeners: superfluous power, musicality and warmth, resolution befitting a $6999 asking price, a proud lineage. Really, there’s a lot to like.
The gist: Beast of an integrated.
Sathyan said: The C 375DAC breathed new life into my speakers, headphones, and recordings. The DAC is a welcome addition that will allow many to forgo the expense of a standalone DAC. As the audio industry seems to be moving toward computer-based playback of hi-rez audio, the NAD C 375DAC should find a place in many listeners’ audio racks.
The gist: A good foundation for a high-end system.
Howard said: The T+A Elektroakustik E-Series Music Receiver is a chef of the future that will propel you into the new digital age of computer and streaming Internet audio. It’s also a chef of the past, allowing you to indulge in such traditional audio pastimes as playing a CD, listening to FM radio, or hooking up a tape deck or phono stage and turntable. It’s a fairly small, extremely well-made product that not only sounds fantastic, but is one of the coolest components to pass through my listening room in some time.
The gist: Audiophile receiver with German engineering.
Michael said: Its construction is attractive and solid, and it performed flawlessly during the time it was in my system. It worked well with tubed and solid-state amplifiers, and was not cable dependent. Likewise, the BC109 performed consistently well with all recordings. Compared to other preamps in its price range, the BC109 is a solid performer.
The gist: More madness from the mind of Gilbert Yeung.
Ryan said: Anyone considering spending $16,950 on a line stage can be certain that the SMc Audio VRE-1C Reference is among the quietest, most resolving preamplifiers on the market, able to achieve those qualities without committing sins in tonality. The VRE-1C never failed to provide me with an enjoyable listening session.
The gist: Ultra-expensive magnum opus from Steve McCormack.
Price: $25,990 per pair.
Peter said: Ultimately, and as good as I know the sound of my reference amplifiers to be, I must conclude that the sound of Audio Research’s Reference 250s is finer. If I had air-conditioning, and if my primary reference system were dedicated solely to me and my music, I would have been more than tempted to buy them.
The gist: Peter was smitten.
Doug said: The Ayre Acoustics VX-R is that rare component: a luxury audio component in every way, a reference-caliber performer, and a very good value at its high price. It’s not only one of the best products of any kind I’ve ever reviewed, it’s the very best power amplifier I’ve ever heard.
The gist: A reference stereo amp in a class-leading package.
Michael said: I can say with confidence that if you have speakers that it can drive, the NSL will be a revelation of just how wonderful music can sound, rewarding you with making your music sound special in ways you probably haven’t heard from your system. The NSL was one of the best-sounding power amplifiers I have ever heard. I give it my highest recommendation.
The gist: One look and you know this thing is different.
Ryan said: This is a component for mature listeners who are getting to the finish line and aren’t trying to use their amps to re-edit the signal. Built to last a lifetime, and with a mix of capabilities to match, the Boulder 1060 is an easy component to recommend for listeners looking for their final power amplifier.
The gist: That good, that expensive, and it's not even their top-of-the-line amp.
Howard said: The A-02 has brawn, tough-to-beat sound, museum-quality looks, and Esoteric’s reputation for rock-solid reliability. You don’t typically find all of those qualities in one amplifier. If your system would benefit from high power and is good enough to reveal what the Esoteric A-02 can do, look no further.
The gist: Expensive beauty and brawn from Esoteric.
Doug said: The S1 has several attributes that will make it the ideal amp for someone. It has plenty of stiff competition in and around $2500, but more than holds its own with a refined, appealing, distinctive sound that’s highly listenable over the long term and is worth the price. It’s a compact, high-style, audiophile-grade masterpiece of visual design for those who want their products to blend beautifully and discreetly into their surroundings.
The gist: Compact, powerful, and super cool looking.
Vade said: The J2 is one of the best amplifiers I’ve heard, regardless of the type of circuit used, and it provides an opportunity to own a product from audio master Nelson Pass at a moderate cost. I thought I was a hopeless tubeaholic, but I think I’ve just been cured.
The gist: Solid-state circuit, tube-like sound.
Price: $3000, $3300 with Gold Lion small-signal tubes
Vade said: JE Audio’s VS70.1 offers an attractive set of features: excellent sound, gorgeous looks, and a fair price.
The gist: Distinctively styled tube amplifier from China.
Price: $24,000 per pair
Jeff said: The PA-M300 S2 amplifier competes solidly with models by many established brands, most of which have been making solid-state power amps a whole lot longer than Sam Jones has. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if you want to take a chance on the new players in town. At least let them in the game and give them a listen. Me? I’d have these amplifiers on my audition list without a doubt.
The gist: New player gets it right, right out of the gate.
Jeff said: It’s super-quiet in operation, immensely powerful, gorgeous to look at, built like a tank, and sounds like silk. If you buy one, you can be assured that you’re getting a long-lasting component from a company that has been making power amplifiers for longer than many of us have been alive.
The gist: Super amp for the real-world audiophile.
Tim said: Rogue Audio’s Medusa seems to be a great idea implemented with great insight and skill, and with outstanding results.
The gist: This hybrid yields the best of both worlds.
Price: 45,000 per pair
Daniel said: My listening sessions never lacked for anything, and I never wanted more. I always heard and enjoyed the music, not the electronics. I played everything I could get my hands on through the Vitus SM-010s, and they reproduced all of it beautifully. Could you ask for more? It’s one of the most complete, most natural-sounding amplifiers I have heard.
The gist: Expensive monos from Denmark hit the mark.
Aron said: Fully configured, it generated the best picture and the most holistic soundstage I’ve seen or heard in my room. The levels of performance, engineering, and outright value that Anthem offers for $6500 scream "Benchmark product!"
The gist: One of the best A/V processors on the market.
Wes said: I can tell you this. The T 787 is a magnificent surround-sound receiver. NAD’s design team has another winner on its hands.
The gist: Powerhouse receiver with sound that an audiophile would love.
Wes said: Bottom line: Onkyo has a real winner here, one capable of standing proudly between two winners of the coveted SoundStage! Network Reviewers’ Choice award. The TX-NR5010 deserves that award as well. A job well done by all involved.
The gist: Big, bad HT receiver with all the bells and whistles.
Andrea said: Their greatest strengths are levels of focus, clarity, and detail that are rare among dynamic headphones. Their closed-back design only augments that sense of detail, and seems to have no adverse consequences. If you strive to hear everything that's on your recordings, the Beyerdynamic T 70s should definitely be on your audition list.
The gist: For the discriminating classical listener.
S. Andrea said: If you come to the P3s from a pair of earbuds or the average small headphones, you’ll likely be amazed at how much bigger and more open they sound. And when you turn up the volume, they won’t complain -- they’ll just get more enveloping. Bowers & Wilkins’ P3 headphones offer a very satisfying sound wrapped up in a stylish, go-anywhere package.
The gist: 801s wrapped around your ears?
Vade said: Overall, the HiFiMAN HM-601 has definite pluses that will need to be weighed carefully to determine whether it’s the right audiophile-quality portable player for you.
The gist: Pretty good portable player but then there's the iPod to consider.
Vade said: With the lowest price of any current planar-magnetic headphone, and with sound rivaling or surpassing that of many other headphones in its price range, the HiFiMAN HE-400s are flaming bargains. I have no trouble giving them a Reviewers’ Choice award.
The gist: Electrostatic headphones at an ambitious price point.
Rad said: The Kinivo BTH220s offered very exciting, very good sound, as well as the freedom of wireless Bluetooth. (Warning: Once you’ve experienced this freedom, you maybe never want to be wired again!) And they cost amazingly little. Amazon sells them for $29.95, but you can probably find them for less. At that price they’re a true bargain, and high on my value-for-dollar list. I’m happy to have rediscovered them.
The gist: Good sounding wireless ‘phones for a pittance.
Rad said: Logitech’s UE 9000s have a lot going for them. They’re solidly built, have a shiny, gleaming appearance, provide excellent sound whether used wired or wireless, and come with a practical carrying case and a better-than-usual warranty. What’s not to like?
The gist: Wireless and neutral 'phones.
Price: $149 per pair
S. Andrea said: The Mikros 70s’ detail and clarity are excellent with small- to medium-scale music. Though they won’t substitute for studio headphones for more complex fare, they won’t discourage you from listening to such recordings. The Mikros 70 delivers a sonic balance that strives to please, regardless of musical selection or driving equipment. Tastes varying as they do, there’s no guarantee that you’ll like the flavor of sound offered by the Mikros 70s -- but I sure did.
The gist: The vaunted speaker company makes a pretty good earphone.
Rad said: They’re comfortable, durable, and intuitive to use. Polk provides different earpads to fit different folks and situations, and the ’phones provide solid, evenly balanced sound with great overall clarity.
The gist: Designed to enhance your workout experience.
Rad said: Polk Audio’s UltraFocus 8000 active noise-canceling headphones offer much. They sounded better than any of the commuter headphones I’ve auditioned, and are easy to operate. They’re smartly and simply designed, with superior build quality.
The gist: Knockout headphones from the venerable loudspeaker company.