Vince said: The ADL Esprit is best suited for use in a computer desktop system, and excelled in that role. In fact, when it was hooked up to my computer, I was never so excited to get to work, knowing that I had a great music system to listen to through my headphones. As your system grows, you can pair the Esprit with a power amp for a killer budget two-channel rig.
The gist: Could form the heart of a small, but high-quality system.
Andrea said: Driven by a good amplifier -- whether from ADL or anyone else -- they deliver the dynamics that make music come alive. And all of that is wrapped up in a fairly compact, unobtrusive package.
The gist: Really good ‘phones for vocals.
Price: $1395 per pair
Hans said: Amphion’s Ion+ is a precision instrument. Its hallmark of accuracy makes it a compelling proposition, and its size and Northern European style make it an attractive one as well.
The gist: Finnish minimonitor with a distinctive style and neutral sound.
Price: $7000 per pair
Jeff said: What I can unequivocally say is that the Anthem Statement M1 is darn near the ideal of a straight wire with gain, and at 1000W, that gain is almost unlimited. Is that enough for you? I suspect that, for many listeners, the answer will be an emphatic yes.
The gist: Awesome power, great sound quality, reasonable price.
Hans said: Arcam’s FMJ A19 is a mature, highly accomplished integrated amplifier. Everything it does it does well, and I know of no other company that makes a product that can compete in overall sound quality and functionality for $999.
The gist: Unassuming on the outside, solid Arcam design on the inside.
Jeff said: The Arcam rBlink is a great little product that doesn’t ask much of its owner. It’s more about expanding your musical enjoyment than causing hassle. I wish that could be said of all high-end audio.
The gist: Stream everything to your stereo.
Garrett said: I found the Astell&Kern AK120 indispensable for portable listening -- it sounds great with all types of music, its dual DACs providing fabulous resolution, speed, and great timing. While I can’t quite say it matches live performance or even the sound of my reference system, it nonetheless makes possible reference-quality personal listening.
The gist: Maybe the best portable for sound quality.
Price: $1800 per pair
Philip said: I’m certain that the AT-2’s combination of strengths will appeal to those who want the more full-range sound of a floorstander combined with the sort of imaging usually heard only from minimonitors. If that describes you, you’ll definitely want to hear a pair of AT-2s.
The gist: Great bass, and overall pretty good.
Doug said: The Mac Platform performed more or less as promised by Atomic Audio Labs, providing a worthwhile increase in sound quality across the entire audioband. While the cost of the Mac Platform may seem high, the cost of the components and accessories of a good high-end system could very well result in the Platform being the least-expensive device in the rack.
The gist: Improve the sound and appearance of your Mac Mini.
Kevin said: The Avantos are a terrific value. Okay, $1499 isn’t chump change, but if all you want is one system that will perform excellently with music and movies while looking fabulous, you may not have to look further.
The gist: You get all this for that?!
Price: $1000 per pair
Jeff said: For speakers so small, the LV2e’s had wonderful resolution and exceptional transparency, while establishing a soundstage of impressive depth and dimension. They’re fast, delicate, and detailed, and their two-way design coherently integrates the bass, treble, and midrange.
The gist: Who wouldn't want a powered, leather-wrapped minimonitor?
Price: $13,000 per pair
Ryan said: On paper, Audio Research’s Reference 5 SE is designed to sound like a SET. In practice, it does so perfectly, without the usual flaws or suffocating character that I’ve heard from most SET amps. For those who suffer from the solid-state blues, the Ref 5 SE will make almost any system it’s plugged into sound bigger, bolder, more holographic, and more downright musical -- just as a SET will.
The gist: An ARC preamp -- a classic option for the best systems.
Rad said: High in comfort and musical fidelity, low in weight, they’d be a good choice for a commuter, a frequent flyer, or someone who spends time in close proximity to machine noises.
The gist: Nice noise-canceling design from a real audiophile company.
Rad said: Overall, the Audio-Technica ATH-WS70 Solid Bass headphones sounded very good with 90% of the music I played. They’re stylish, and except for the cable connection, seem solidly built. They also cost less than comparable headphones. But I couldn’t listen long to them before the heat from the earcups became unbearable. That might not affect you, but it’s something to keep in mind, particularly if you have larger ears. If it’s not a problem, the ATH-WS70s should give you excellent sound from most of your music collection.
The gist: Good sounding but they get hot on your ears.
Price: $149, one Sender, one Receiver; $89, each additional Receiver
Doug said: Honest-to-goodness, CD-quality, wireless sound for $149. No interference problems, even in the dense RFI soup of a large apartment complex. Ultrasimple setup -- just plug in the W3 Sender and Receiver and you’re ready to move your music anywhere you need it within a reasonable range. In fact, you can send your music to up to three W3 Receivers simultaneously. Simple, inexpensive, functional -- both thumbs way up.
The gist: Wireless DAC that has no drawbacks at the price.
Doug said: The AudioQuest DragonFly is a high-bang-for-the-buck Reviewers’ Choice, and an easy recommendation for anyone on a tight budget who’s looking to move computer-based music playback to the next level.
The gist: Don’t let the size and price fool you -- this is a great little DAC.
Price: $4187 per pair
Doug said: All told, for its asking price, the Rhapsody 80 performed exceedingly well in my room. Color me impressed -- very impressed.
The gist: A new company producing a surprisingly good speaker for a fair price.
Price: $7100 per pair
Doug said: Antti Louhivaara’s focus on the acoustical solution has resulted in the XO Cerica looking different from anything else out there, and in it outperforming, in certain areas, almost everything else. When you’re sitting in the sweet spot, two of those areas are its soundstaging and imaging, which put the speaker in a league of its own, regardless of price.
The gist: Doug contends it’s the soundstaging champ.
Sathyan said: Supplemented with a high-quality USB DAC and an iOS (or, soon, Android) device for queue management, Autonomic Control’s Mirage MMS•5A can handily beat a computer in ease of use and reliability for local playback. Its user interface and library-management facilities are excellent for file-based audio. As delivered, however, I feel it overpromises and underdelivers in terms of sound quality.
The gist: Expensive for what it offers, and built more for the custom-install crowd.
Roger said: It’s a great-sounding amplifier. I was impressed by the sound quality of this budget-friendly amp, and was more than happy to have it in my reference multichannel system for an extended period.
The gist: Watts-per-dollar champ that sounds good, too.
Price: $3760 per pair in standard finishes
Roger said: Axiom Audio’s innovative engineering and first-rate implementation in the LFR1100, including the use of 11 biamped drivers and DSP, have taken bipolar loudspeakers to the next level. Considering the quality of the cabinet and finish, and the fact that it includes a solidly built, outboard digital signal processor, the LFR1100 seems a bargain at its base price of $3760/pair.
The gist: Innovative bipolar design out of the House of Axiom.
Sathyan said: In the e.One C7R receiver, Bel Canto Design has assembled a wide range of good-sounding possibilities into a compact and seamlessly integrated package.
The gist: Highly functional and no surround sound!
Jeff said: As for sound, the Bel Canto stack stacks up well against the DACs that many feel are among the best available, and at less than Arab-sheik prices. They’re sonically very well balanced across the board, but are simply superb in the midrange, where lots of music needs it most. Although the Bel Cantos won’t beat every competing product in every sonic area -- what high-end component does? -- they can stand toe to toe with the best of them, and offer their owner a beautiful view into the heart of the music.
The gist: Modular digital front end that gets the midrange just about perfect.
Roger said: Its improvement of transparency, imaging, and low-level detail make it a cost-effective upgrade for $375. If your digital audio system doesn’t already include USB input and you’re thinking of adding a USB converter, a Bel Canto mLink would be an excellent place to start.
The gist: Got a DAC without USB input?
Hans said: The DAC2 HGC uses one of the best digital chipsets on the market today to produce a quality of sound that, until a few years ago, wasn’t available for less than $10,000. It sounds far more refined than its $1995 price would suggest, and when you consider that it can serve as the keystone of a digital and analog system, on a desktop or in a listening room, it becomes all the more remarkable.
The gist: Follow-up to the highly successful DAC1.
Price: $7500 per pair
Vade said: They sounded very dynamic and direct, with excellent soundstage reproduction. Further, their transient response and harmonic accuracy illustrated the advantages of having no crossover. There were a couple of minor anomalies, but nothing major.
The gist: Crossoverless speaker that sounded pretty good to Vade.
Roger said: Although the 18X Sillycone Filter won’t win any beauty contests, like Blue Circle Audio’s other components stuffed into ABS pipes, it offers performance beyond what you’d expect. Having now used a couple of them, I now can’t imagine my system without at least one of Blue Circle’s high-value power-conditioning products hooked up to it, and the 18X Sillycone Filter would be at the top of my list.
The gist: If you care more about clean power than a nice chassis.
Kevin said: If all you have is one system, and a limited amount of space that you must keep relatively uncluttered, the MT-60D could very well be the system for you. Its cinematic performance is exceptional, and its musical performance is likely unchallenged for a system of its size.
The gist: Small but potent HT speaker system.
Philip said: With the B135 SST2, Bryston has succeeded in setting a new standard for the level of performance that can be expected at this price. You’ll have to spend significantly more to improve on the B135’s sound, and even so, those improvements are likely to be small. On these grounds -- and because it sounds so darn good -- Bryston’s B135 SST2 gets my highest recommendation.
The gist: Bread-and-butter integrated amp that really floated Philip’s boat.
Philip said: For $2395, the buyer of a BDA-2 will get a solidly built, high-performing DAC that can improve the sound of up to eight source components, while also accepting high-resolution digital files from a computer.
The gist: Solid choice for a mid-priced DAC from a venerable company.
Price: $6495 per pair
Aron said: The Model T is a balls-to-the-wall, highly capable floorstander that offers tremendous levels of control, dynamic ability, and class-leading bass performance. While it doesn’t provide the last iota of detail resolution, the Model T’s sound is thrilling in virtually every other way, and deserves to be considered if you’re looking for a robust reference loudspeaker that will shy away from nothing.
The gist: Big, bold sound from Bryston’s first loudspeaker.
Price: $16,000 per pair
Hans said: Cabasse’s Pacific 3 loudspeaker is as visually distinctive as it is sonically pleasing. It’s a unique quantity on both counts; it can reproduce the human voice with aplomb, and it offers some of the best imaging I’ve ever heard. The Pacific 3 may not be conventional, but it’s a very well-engineered loudspeaker offering a deeply involving sound.
The gist: Distinctive is the right word for these lovely speakers from France.
Price: $1950 each
Tim said: The Calyx Femti does a whole lot right and very little wrong, and does it in a neat, tidy, power- and space-efficient package at a price within reach of many audiophiles. In the world of power amplifiers, less indeed seems to be becoming more.
The gist: Class D continues its impressive evolution.
Sathyan said: The Azur 651R would be a fine choice for someone who wants to use a single box for listening to music and watching movies but who is more focused on the music -- especially multichannel music.
The gist: Music-centric AVR with just enough features for a fine HT.
Vince said: This receiver is best suited to those whose hearts belong to two-channel music; and those who want to watch movies but are willing to give up some of the home-theater extras that can degrade sound quality. If that describes you, this is your receiver!
The gist: Great choice for the music lover dabbling in home theater.
Doug said: If you value strict neutrality, high transparency, excellent detail, and unflinching, unwavering, unapologetic fidelity to the source, then you’ll find Cambridge Audio’s Azur 851C a wonderful digital source component and, at $1999, an excellent deal.
The gist: Tons of modern functionality and great sound, too.
Price: $3798 per pair
Doug said: When people ask me to recommend a top-class, midpriced, floorstanding speaker, what almost always pop to mind are various models from such stalwart brands as KEF, Paradigm, and PSB. What I heard from the Chrono SLS 780 DC means that the next time I’m asked for such a recommendation,Canton, too, will be on the tip of my tongue.
The gist: Overachieving small floorstander from Germany.
Garrett said: The EM5813s are in another league entirely from the [Monster] Turbines, providing me with portable sound on a level that satisfies my audiophiliac need for clarity, depth, speed, great bass, and real richness. I don’t feel deprived when I’m listening to them -- quite the opposite. Instead, they’re another means of serious listening. And at $425 retail, they’re a definite no-brainer. Get them. They’re fabulous!
The gist: Really good audiophile earphones from a cable maker.
Aron said: The CP-800’s interface, functionality, and versatility are second to none. Its build quality is exemplary, and its sound quality as an analog preamp is, to my ears, matched only by Parasound’s JC-2BP. Used as a DAC, the CP-800 will likely make your CD player obsolete, and it does an excellent job of reproducing high-resolution recordings as well.
The gist: Highly functional preamp with DAC included.
Price: $2000 per pair
Sid said: Contrast Audio’s ad copy states that their loudspeakers sound very natural, dynamic, and realistic. At least in regard to the Model One As3-Ref, I would tend to agree, and especially in terms of this speaker’s reproduction of voices. The As3-Refs imbued singers with a sense of poise and authenticity in which nuances and emotions were conveyed with a truthfulness uncommon in speakers costing $2000/pair.
The gist: Quaint little speaker from the Ukraine with some unique charms.
Doug said: The Copland CTA 506 is a modern-day implementation of tube technology with a thoroughly enjoyable sound that retains the best aspects of tubed designs while doing an admirable job of avoiding the technology’s weaknesses.
The gist: A solid value in the tube-amplification arena.
Price: $12,950 per pair
Michael said: The Argos v.2s present a wide, open soundstage, a high level of fidelity and musicality, a realistic-sounding midrange, deep bass, and the ability to play loud when you want to let your hair down to boogie or rock out -- and all of this to a much higher degree than previous Daedalus models could do.
The gist: Manufacturer-direct loudspeaker that Michael thought was quite good.
Rad said: Although my overall impressions of DarbeeVision’s Darblet DVP 5000 are positive, I have some serious doubts as to whether it’s good value for the dollar. Still, for that one Hi Def setting, the good outweighs the obvious bad to my eyes, and in the long run I found it an excellent addition to a well-calibrated video system, and one of the best video tweaks I’ve seen in four or five years.
The gist: Serious limitations, but could be useful for some.
Price: $1198 per pair
Hans said: At $1198/pair, the Definitive Technology BP-8020ST SuperTower is a near-full-range speaker that sounds far larger than its tiny footprint would suggest. Its active bass section and high efficiency should make it an easy load for any amplifier, and it offers shocking clarity for the price.
The gist: How can they pack in so much for so little?
Colin said: The sound is excellent for a system that can’t be all things to all people, and I have no doubt the SoloCinema XTR would trounce every home-theater-in-a-box available at the local electronics barn. If your remodeling plans don’t include wires and bulk, but do include convenience, sleek modern design, and great sound for the price, Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema XTR should be at the top of your shopping list.
The gist: Not quite separates, but blows away an HTiB.
Ian said: Regardless of what I threw at it, Definitive Technology’s Sound Cylinder was engaging with all types of music -- everything from Green Day, Adele, Daft Punk, and Bill Frisell to Dvorák and Copland. It may not unravel layers of detail like a pair of KEF LS50s or Dynaudio Focus 340s, or even offer the bass response of a pair of entry-level monitors like the PSB Imagine Minis, but it’s pretty obvious that somebody forgot to tell it that.
The gist: Highly potent little add-on for your tablet computer.
Prices: $7650 per 2m pair, 2550 per 1m pair, $495 per 1m cord, respectively
Hans said: Deeply resolving and full of high-quality components, they look, feel, and, most important, sound like the reference-caliber products one should demand at these prices -- prices that are still only fractions of what other companies sell their reference products for.
The gist: Hans said these were basically perfect.
Price: $3350 per 2m cord
Hans said: Deeply resolving and full of high-quality components, they look, feel, and, most important, sound like the reference-caliber products one should demand at these prices -- prices that are still only fractions of what other companies sell their reference products for.
The gist: Hans said these were basically perfect.
Price: $4900 per pair
Thom said: As befits Dynaudio’s reputation for producing excellent speakers, their Focus 260 is among the best I’ve heard. This is a speaker that brings out scads of detail, and so needs associated equipment that’s up to the task. Their modest size, perfect for many listening rooms, belies the quality of their output. With their neutral voicing and adequate but not prodigious bass, I would favor them for classical and acoustic music and small-combo jazz. If you’re into speed metal or something equally raucous, look elsewhere. But if your tastes match their impressive capabilities, the Dynaudio Focus 260s belong on your shopping list.
The gist: Dynaudio’s specialty: a solid mid-priced floorstander.
Howard said: Twenty years from now, when some reviewer again recounts Ed Meitner’s storied accomplishments, I’m sure the EMM Labs DAC2X will be judged worthy of prominence in that list, much like the Meitner IDAT DAC of 1992. Like the IDAT, the DAC2X pushes the performance envelope of digital conversion. More important, it taught me a few things about the art of music.
The gist: The flagship from a true legend in digital audio.
Uday said: It is fully competitive with other well-regarded DACs costing less than $10,000, including my reference Meitner MA-1 ($7000). I feel you can’t go wrong with the D-07X -- it should be on anyone’s list for consideration.
The gist: Right up there with the top units in its price range.
Price: $23,500 each
Ryan said: These state-of-the-art products will likely be the end of the digital road for those lucky enough to be able to buy them. If I had the coin, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy these things, and never worry about digital again. And with a build quality to last 40 years? Yeah, I could justify that. Amazing.
The gist: SOTA digital for the high roller.
Price: $2199.99 per 3m cord and $2999.99, respectively
Howard said: Chances are that the ESP products will substantially improve your system’s sound. Undoubtedly, they’ll make you realize, for the first time or the fifth, that you overlook the benefits of good AC power at your own risk.
The gist: Solidly competitive with the rest, but not cheap.
Price: $5499 per pair
Philip said: No speaker I’ve reviewed in the past year has impressed me more than Focal’s Electra 1008 Be 2. It performs well in so many areas, but it is its precision, fullness, and clarity that launch it into that special class of speakers that nearly touch the high point of the price/performance curve.
The gist: French-made stand-mounted loudspeaker that fulfills high aspirations.
Kevin said: If all you have room for is one system, and you listen to Internet Radio and watch DVDs and Blu-rays, the Focal Pack could very well be the system that will satisfy all your needs at a reasonable price.
The gist: Compact system that is better for movies than music.
Jason said: I’d wager that, in the next few decades, audio enthusiasts will look back at this clean, elegantly designed, beautifully made amplifier as a classic of the early 21st century.
The gist: A speaker company makes a great amp.
Rad said: I found the G-Project G-Go to be just fine for use in the shower. Its sturdy design meant that I could pick it up by its built-in handle and take it just about anywhere. The fact that the G-Go uses only nonrechargeable batteries will be a drawback to some, but it can be plugged into any wall outlet. And I appreciated the inclusion of basic Play/Pause and Skip Forward/Back buttons. The G-Go has plenty of volume and plays loud without excessive distortion. The only bad news is its warranty: a mere 90 days.
The gist: Cool form factor for this portable.
Price: $1399.98 per pair
Roger said: Let’s face it -- not everyone wants or needs a big full-range speaker. If your needs are a tad more modest, the Triton Seven will still provide the big, impressive sound that I’ve come to expect from GoldenEar’s larger floorstanding speakers, but from a smaller, less expensive package.
The gist: Big sound for relatively little money.
Rad said: I was amazed at the quantity and quality of sound produced by Grace Digital’s little ECOXBT. You can carry it with you as easily as your sunglasses or your favorite T-shirt.
The gist: Solid little portable that provides decent sound anywhere.
Rad said: As a mono table radio, it sounded very good. It was especially good if you’re listening to talk radio. If you’re listening to music, you’ll find that it most likely won’t give you room-filling sound without distorting, though I think half the reports of bad sound can be attributed to bad broadcast signals.
The gist: Decent choice for a nice clock radio but there is a lot of competition.
Price: $8200 per pair
Doug said: Of the ribbon speakers I’ve heard in my room over the years, the Grand Cru Essentiel is one of the highest priced. It’s also the best sounding . . . and proof that the propensity of the French to do things differently can pay off when the result is something like this -- a speaker that’s not just unique, but a cut or two above the rest.
The gist: Unique French-made, ribbon-based minimonitor that has some special qualities.
Jeff said: I’ve never heard the equal of the Gryphon Mephisto. It combines qualities that seem clearly contradictory: It had the best bass I could imagine, yet could image as precisely as anything I’ve heard. It expanded the soundstage in every direction, yet perfectly retained the midrange purity of a single performer standing dead center in the soundstage. It resolved the finest details of hi-rez recordings, and at the same time presented music in a cohesive, musically enjoyable manner at all times.
The gist: Best solid-state amp Jeff has heard.
Jeff said: Although you can buy a higher-resolution device for more money, I’m not sure you’ll find one that you’ll enjoy as much, regardless of price. The reason? That elusive quality of musicality. That makes the Hegel HD25 a Select Component, and a surefire way to elevate your sound system for what is, by today’s high-end standards, relatively little money.
Garrett said: If I had the extra cash, I’d get the Hegel HD25 right away. Affordably priced, with plug’n’play installation, and easy to operate, it’s an excellent product and a gateway to high performance in computer-based digital playback.
The gist: Perhaps the DAC to buy for $2500.
Erich said: The Hegel P20 was neutral in its sound. It allowed for beautifully clear separation of sounds, voices, and instruments; and the vivid depth of its bass was a revelation. This preamplifier allowed singers and instruments on the best recordings to sound natural and almost fully real. The buyer gets far better sound than the P20’s price of $2900 suggests.
The gist: Hegel does it yet again: produces great sound at a more-than-competitive price.
Price: $59.99 each
Rad said: The Jam Plus will appeal to only the most casual listener -- the sort who thinks that MP3s sound just great. The serious audiophile is urged to seek out another brand. The Jam Plus is little more than a toy -- cool in some respects, but incapable of playing music in a way that I would enjoy hearing.
The gist: Skip it.
Rad said: The Jabra Revos are built like a battleship, are comfortable to wear, have great sound, can be used wireless or wired, and have an imaginative and useful app. At its price, it should fill the bill for many listeners.
The gist: Well-built headphones that are ready to hit the road.
Michael said: JE Audio’s Dyad S400 showed itself to be an excellent performer in all respects. I put it through its paces and compared it to some excellent-sounding amplifiers, and it more than held its own.
The gist: Solid-state excellence from a company normally associated with tubes.
Price: $6400 per pair
Doug said: I can strongly recommend the VM60 to those who desire a bit of tube magic, and whose speakers will mate well with them. What I heard from the VM60s was extraordinarily good sound for the price.
The gist: Good-sounding, high-value tube monos from Asia.
Kevin said: JL Audio’s E-Sub e110 is a terrific component. If $1500 is your price point, then you’re missing something special if you don’t give it a listen. Recommended.
The gist: One of the best subs for the price we can think of.
Price: $1900 in Black Ash, $2100 in Black Gloss
Jeff said: At the end of the day, the E-Sub e112 is an output beast with fidelity to match. That’s worth the asking price in most any system. In fact, its performance makes the e112 the no-brainer buy of the year.
The gist: Pounds out high-fidelity bass.
Wes said: The DLA-X70R is another in a very long line of winners from JVC. Highly recommended.
The gist: Not cheap, but for the best home theaters . . .
Rad said: If you don’t need frills and are looking for stylish headphones with solid bass and that sound terrific with any kind of music, JVC’s HA-M55X Xtreme Xplosives ought to do the trick -- and their low price will leave you a lot of cash to spend on tunes.
The gist: Good headphones on the cheap.
Price: $56,000 per pair
Jeff said: The Kaisers sound simply huge, with none of the negatives you might think that implies; e.g., a ten-foot-wide singer. There are times when you just want to kick back and relax into a massive soundstage, letting the music wash over you from seemingly every direction. You want to feel the power of music in your chest, while letting the highs caress your ears with subtle but detailed sound. You want to occasionally open your eyes and be amazed that the beautiful yet modest structures in the corners of your room are doing all that and more.
The gist: Unique and impressive sonic and visual qualities from a flagship loudspeaker from Germany.
Price: $1499.99 per pair
Doug said: The LS50 is nothing short of a masterpiece of a minimonitor, priced so that anyone serious about audio can buy a pair -- and probably should, if only to know how great a small speaker can be.
The gist: Is there anything else to even consider at the price?
Price: $4999.98 per pair
Hans said: It has no real shortcomings, only an abundance of strengths -- and an emphatic recommendation from a writer usually allergic to such things.
The gist: Might be the best floorstander you can buy at the price.
Price: $799.99 per pair
Hans said: That a product designed from the ground up by one of the most reputable speaker companies on the planet costs so little is an achievement. It just works so well and with such ease. Call it a gourmet computer speaker, a desktop hi-fi, or whatever you like -- just understand that this is the small beginning of something significant: the future of high-end audio.
The gist: Perhaps the shape and sound of things to come.
Vade said: The VA340 Mk.II integrated amplifier was one of the best-sounding amplifiers I’ve heard in my system. Powerful yet delicate, it had a complex tonal palette and that legendary SET palpability. It doesn’t have a lot of features, but it has the ones that matter most.
The gist: Beefy-sounding tube integrated from the Czech Republic.
Price: $16,500 per pair
Michael said: The KR Audio VA910 sounds wonderful and looks great. Its build quality -- which should create great pride of ownership -- its refinement of appearance, and its exceptional sound make for a very compelling amplifier. There’s a lot of competition at the VA910’s price, but it’s definitely worthy of your consideration for all that it might bring to your listening room.
The gist: Made in Prague, and very competitive in the tube-amp marketplace.
Rad said: The Harmony Touch looks sharp, works accurately and well, and can control up to 15 devices. For those who prefer to operate their home-theater and/or audio systems with a dedicated universal remote, the Logitech Harmony Touch is a very good choice.
The gist: If you don’t use a Smartphone and an app, choose this.
Rad said: Of course, no Boombox should be expected to produce anything like the sound quality required for serious listening. The Logitech would work OK for a party or background music, however.
The gist: Portable, but just not that great.
Rad said: The UE Smart Radio was almost entirely spot-on at doing what Logitech promises it will do, and makes available a lifetime’s worth of radio stations in very good, listenable sound. Its screen displays sharp if small images, it has killer good looks, is reasonably priced, relatively simple to operate, and comes with good support.
The gist: Every kitchen countertop should have one.
Price: $149.99 per pair
Rad said: Logitech’s Z600 wireless Bluetooth speakers have striking looks that you’ll probably either love or hate, and play loudly enough to satisfy anyone using happy with the limitations of desktop speakers. Offering transparent sound in a stylish package, they’re simple to hook up, and the price is on the moderate side.
The gist: Cool little lifestyle stereo computer speakers.
Price: $29,400-$32,500 per pair
Doug said: For those who are shopping for speakers in this price range and who value strict neutrality, high definition, prodigious output capability, awe-inspiring build quality, and don’t mind a pair of speakers that weigh 195 pounds each, the Magico S5 is likely the best available, and among a handful of great-sounding speakers at any price.
The gist: The best speaker at its price point, period.
Uday said: If you’re in the market for a new tuner, you should consider Internet Radio streaming for all the possibilities it brings. The MD 806T seemed to optimize that experience, and therefore deserves your consideration.
The gist: High-end Internet Radio for the audiophile.
Wes said: The Marantz SR7008 is a frontrunner in every way. The double nature of its front panel is a perfect metaphor for what lies inside: You can keep it simple, like the two-dial front, or you can flip down the panel and go as deeply into setup as you want. It’s also very good looking, not like the industrial boxes of most of its competition.
The gist: Strong contender in the AVR wars with cut-above looks.
Vince said: They’re beauties to look at, with a high-gloss finish to match that of any flat-panel TV. The Folded Motion Tweeter is more refined than those used in other wall-mounts I’ve heard, and the Motion SLMs produced much better depth of image than other on-walls -- at least comparable to that of good bookshelf speakers. Finally, if you’re looking for a small subwoofer, MartinLogan’s Dynamo 700w should be on your short list -- this little wunderkind slays anything in its class that I’ve heard.
The gist: Slick-looking lifestyle system that also performs well.
Randall said: The Relay is as nicely engineered and built as any audio product at its price that I have reviewed. The thought that Mass Fidelity has put into it is refreshing. There are other Bluetooth DACs on the market that come nowhere close to looking or sounding as good as the Relay.
The gist: Bluetooth as good as CD -- will wonders never cease.
Andrea said: A neutral sound from top to bottom will work well with any style of music, and the n4’s slightly forgiving top end will cause offense to none. All wrapped up in an attractive package, the Miniwatt n4 is well worth a look -- and, of course, a listen.
The gist: You gotta love the leather wrap.
Price: $8999 per pair
Jason said: The PL200 is an intensely satisfying and very musical speaker. And while we’re all about sound first here, I don’t think I’d be out of line in saying that the PL200’s appearance factored into my experience. There was something innately elegant about the way the speaker’s materials and proportions have been combined to form something part functional device, part object of art.
The gist: Looks as good as it sounds.
Rad said: If you prefer a sound that’s warmer and less detailed, and are looking for a really solid build, a comfortable fit, and bass to burn, the Munitios should suit you just fine.
The gist: Nice build quality and a warmish sound should find these a market.
S. Andrea said: The Music Culture Elegance MC 501A delivers full, rich bass; a vivid, present midrange; and sweet highs. Its sound is more about tone and fluidity than slam and sparkle. The MC 501A won’t bowl you over with detail, but if you sit down and listen to it, you’ll find that most of those details are still there, playing a subservient role to the music -- as they do in real life.
Price: $3495 per pair
Doug said: It does this unassuming gem of a speaker from Germany something of disservice to call it one of the best two-way, stand-mounted speakers I’ve ever heard. At anywhere near its price, it’s one of the best speakers I’ve heard of any type.
The gist: Robust minimonitor from Germany.
Colin said: It’s likely the most sophisticated amplifier available at its price. In this ever-changing world, sophistication and modularity are good things, and the C 390DD offers both. That it’s also a superb music-reproduction device and sounds invisible is a major achievement, and, at its price, a phenomenal one.
The gist: Much more than just an integrated amp with a built-in DAC.
Prices: $199 and $179, respectively
Thom said: I heartily recommend the Air DACs, especially at their prices -- either will provide the advantage of wireless connectivity for the cost of a simple, entry-level wired DAC. They’re the real deal.
The gist: Wireless solutions from NuForce do not disappoint.
Roger said: At only $549, the NuForce DDA-100 sets a new standard for performance in an affordably priced integrated amplifier.
The gist: The entryway into high-end amplification.
Vade said: It’s quiet, and easy to set up, use, and maintain. It portrays music with great transparency, letting you appreciate the musicians’ intent and phrasing. Its ability to use a wide variety of power-output tubes adds flexibility for those who want to experiment with the different sounds of different tubes. Its sound equaled or surpassed that of a highly regarded amplifier and line stage costing more than twice as much, and it produced enough power to drive a wide variety of speakers.
The gist: Flexible performance from this tube-based German machine.
Wes said: Using an Oppo, I stop thinking about my electronics and start looking for more movies to watch. The Oppo BDP-103 is a Reviewers’ Choice product -- and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it mentioned next January, when the 2013 SoundStage! Network Product of the Year awards are announced.
The gist: The BD player to get priced under five bills.
Roger said: At $1199, the BDP-105 is an easy recommendation as a state-of-the-art Blu-ray Disc player and basic media player/server. When you consider that it’s also a very good DAC and digital preamp, its value is off the charts.
The gist: Simply the best Blu-ray-enabled source on the market.
Price: $2599.98 per pair
Doug said: In terms of appearance, build, and sound, as well as the exclusivity offered by a limited edition, and the cachet of custom features, the Paradigm Reference 30th Anniversary Inspiration is a unique and highly appealing speaker that’s tough to beat at the price.
The gist: A piece of audio history that also makes great sound.
Price: $8499 per pair
Tim said: PBN Audio’s Scan-Speak B741 is a seriously good loudspeaker. When I’d at last fully understood what it could do in the service of the music, it became my benchmark at this price point.
The gist: All about really good drivers in this solid DIY design.