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.
Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fireview.
The gist: The line between tubes and solid state continue to blur.
Brent said: I can’t think of earphones I like better for $200 -- or even for $300.
Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.
The gist: Great sound and nine sets of eartips!
Prices: $11,000 (Tube-DAC II SE), $12,000 (Drive II)
Michael said: The Accustic Arts Reference Tube-DAC II SE and Reference Drive II are easy to recommend to anyone who can afford this level of performance and has a large CD collection. As a pair, they’re right up there with the best I’ve heard.
Read the Ultra Audio review.
The gist: Perhaps the ultimate combo for your CD collection.
Price: $3000 per pair
Thom said: Their sound was as crisp and detailed as I might want, but never shrill or overpowering. When bass was called for, they stepped up and produced. And they look attractive -- my wife likes them better than anything else I’ve had in my listening room.
Read the SoundStage! review.
The gist: Thom's new reference speaker.
Rad said: If you don’t carry your music player in your pocket, but use it primarily at home or on long commutes, the AR-M2 should add a lot of quality to your life as a traveling audiophile.
The gist: AR is back with a bang!
Brent said: That the noise-canceling AKG N60 NCs came pretty close to the sound quality of my reference midpriced headphones, NAD’s Viso HP50s ($299), is remarkable. Overall, I do prefer the HP50s’ sound, but if I had to choose between them -- indeed, if I had to choose only one set of headphones to live with -- I’d take the N60 NCs for their much greater utility.
The gist: Great choice for frequent flyers.
Price: $2795 per pair in black or white (add $200 per pair for real-wood veneer)
Philip said: Amphion’s Argon3 is the finest-sounding bookshelf speaker I’ve ever reviewed for the SoundStage! Network. It has outclassed my longtime reference, PSB’s Platinum M2. The torch has been passed.
The gist: The third time's the charm for the Argon.
Price: $3695 per pair in black, white, or full white painted finish; $3995/pair in birch, cherry, or walnut real-wood veneers
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.
The gist: Perhaps one of the best small floorstanders under five grand a pair that you can currently buy.
Prices: $239 per 8’ pair (Black Oval 12), $315 per 1m pair (Micro Copper Oval-In)
Colin said: I like Analysis Plus for their strict adherence to a no-BS philosophy -- something exceedingly rare among makers of audio cables.
Read the GoodSound! review.
The gist: Real engineering leads to real-good sound with AP.
Vince said: This system changed my opinion about what sorts of speakers make the best home-theater speakers. Although the price of this system is high, its performance is up there with that of the very best systems I’ve heard. If you’re in the market for a high-end speaker package for home theater and music, the Angstrom Obbligato Renaissance should be on your must-audition list.
Read the Home Theater & Sound review.
The gist: Expensive. Canadian. Very good.
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.
Roger said: If you’re in the market for a high-quality surround-sound processor, I can’t recommend the Anthem AVM 60 highly enough. I would think long and hard before spending more.
Read the SoundStage! Access review.
The gist: An SSP this good used to cost double.
Wes said: Even if you’re not interested in a single-company solution, Anthem’s fair price, outstanding product support, and bleeding-edge design add up to a no-brainer recommendation. I don’t think any other projector at any price will make you happier.
The gist: Wes likes it, so it must be that good.
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.
Read the SoundStage! Accessreview.
The gist: The best room correction in a receiver for under two grand.
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.
The gist: Anthem conquered processors, receivers are apparently next.
Vince said: What most impressed me about the MRX 720 was its state-of-the-art Anthem Room Correction, its clean amplification, and its effortless streaming abilities. If you’re looking for a great-sounding HT receiver that sounds better than other HT receivers while giving up nothing in features, and is simple to use, give Anthem’s MRX 720 an audition.
The gist: A class act in an HT receiver.
Vince said: The Performance MRX 510 ups the performance of ARC to provide unprecedented control and feedback for room correction, and raises the bar for home-theater receivers. Despite my initial misgivings about the features omitted from the MRX 500 to create the MRX 510, I ended up missing none of them. If you value sound quality and like to take some control over your speakers, as I do, I highly recommend the Anthem Performance MRX 510.
The gist: ARC puts this fine receiver at the head of the pack.
Wes said: If sound quality is your primary purchasing criterion, then the Performance MRX 710 should be at the top of your list. Even if you have an MRX 700, the MRX 710’s “1M” improvements in ARC and the Advanced Load Monitoring are enough reasons to upgrade.
The gist: Second-generation receiver from Anthem is the best for an audiophile home theater.
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.
Price: $6000 per pair
Wes said: Four years ago, when the Nucleus Reference 3.1 came out, I told anyone who would listen that it was a bargain at twice the price. I was wrong. The 3.5 is twice the price, but as good a speaker as most people will ever need.
The gist: A really well-rounded speaker.
Price: $650 per pair
Ron said: The 4T asks little in terms of space, watts, or money, but play through them your favorite but imperfectly recorded LPs or CDs and they’ll make the most of the good that’s there while downplaying the bad. In a world of cynical hi-fi gear, the Aperion 4T is a true optimist.
The gist:Mini-floorstander with monster sound, direct to your door.
He said:These are marvelous products. If your speaker-system budget limit is around $3k, then I’d short-list them. Turns out the loonies at Aperion aren’t so loony after all.
The gist:In this case, Internet-direct means high quality and great service.
Price: $1090 per pair
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.
The gist: Aperion's smallest floorstander stands tall in performance.
Price: $598 per pair
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.
The gist: Look at that finish!
Price: $1798 per pair
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.
The gist: The new speaker-to-get-under-$2000 class leader.
Oliver said: The airDAC is a music maker through and through -- one that offers a huge slice of audiophile sound at a real-world price. It does so without playing favorites in terms of musical genre or listener preference, delivering the musical goods in the most engaging way it can.
The gist: Who says an AirPlay-equipped DAC can’t be high end?
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.
Roger said: It’s solidly built, its operation during the review period was straightforward and without fault, and, most important, it sounded simply fantastic.
The gist: Unassuming package, unexpected sound quality.
Roger said: After listening to the Arcam FMJ CD37, I can understand why so many audiophiles listen to SACDs. Its performance with these high-resolution recordings was breathtaking.
Read the SoundStage!review.
The gist: Buy it for your SACDs.
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.
Roger said: Whether used as a conventional DAC or as a DAC-preamp, Arcam’s irDAC-II consistently provided a level of sound quality that exceeded my expectations for something so inexpensive.
The gist: High-value little DAC from longstanding British electronics company.
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.
The gist: Asynchronous USB DAC that's a solid deal.
Uday said: The Emitter I is a fantastic product that’s so close to the audiophile ideal of a straight wire with gain that it’s hard to believe that’s true without hearing it for yourself.
The gist: One of the best integrated amps in the world, bar none.
Rad said: All in all, listening to Astell&Kern’s AK Jr was pure pleasure.
The gist: Littlest brother to the company’s mighty AK380 portable media player.
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.
Rad said: Is the AK380 worth $3499? Is a Jaguar or a Cadillac worth its high price? Yes and no. There’s no question that the A&K is the best portable media player around, but as for how much the best should cost, you’ll have to decide. But I seriously doubt that the AK380 will disappoint anyone, even at $3499.
The gist: Pricey, but maybe the best portable out there.
Roger said: The Asus O!Play HDP-R1 is a lot of media player for $99. While it lacks the polished user interface of, say, the Western Digital WD TV Live, its excellent performance meant that it was not out of place in my reference home-theater system.
Read the SoundStage! Xperiencereview.
The gist: Only $99?!
Price: $2500 per pair
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.
The gist: The standout budget floorstander of 2011.
Price: $6950 per pair
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.
Read the Ultra Audioreview.
The gist: Nothing between you and the music -- not even a transformer.
Price: $399 with Cipher and analog cables, $349 with analog cable only
Brent said: If you want top-notch, audiophile-grade sound you can enjoy at home and easily take along to your office, cubicle, or hotel room, I can’t think of a more practical and cost-effective way to get it. This is $4000 worth of sound for $400.
The gist: Unique design delivers stunning sound quality.
Garrett said: The Audeze LCD-3s created the best head-fi listening experience I have yet had. They’re serious contenders for a reference-level set of headphones and a must-hear for anyone looking at the top-tier of head-fi.
The gist: The anti-Beats set of headphones.
S. Andrea said: The LCD-Xes imbue every recording with a little extra glow, but their enhanced high-frequency performance, and the fact that they’re more easily driven, will likely broaden their appeal beyond Audeze’s current fan base. Last, the LCD-Xes’ materials, build quality, and accessories embrace both luxury and utility. For anyone truly serious about headphones, the Audeze LCD-Xes are a must audition.
The gist: Newish company stands apart in a crowded headphone market.
Price: $5000 with 6’ powerChord e AC cord; $4500 without AC cord
Doug said: Going from no power conditioner to the aR6-TS was such a revelation that it was difficult to believe that a mere power conditioner could make such a huge improvement. If you think your system already sounds as good as it can, you might find it hard to believe what an Audience aR6-TS can do for it.
The gist: One of the best passive power conditioners.
Garrett said: I think Audience’s new adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX with Au24 SE-i powerChord is the bomb. My system never sounded so good.
Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.
The gist: Well, “the bomb” really says it all.
Prices: Standard model, $2400/6’ cord; Medium-Power model, $1250/6’ cord; Low-Power model, $1080/6’ cord
Doug said: Audience’s Au24 SE powerChords, interconnects, and speaker cables are the most satisfying wiring products I’ve used in the last 39 years. They sit at the pinnacle of cable performance, and provide an attractive combination of big spaces, a very neutral sound and marvelously balanced performance, from the deepest bass to the highest treble.
The gist: The best cables Doug has heard.
Prices: speaker cables, $2295 per 2.5m pair; interconnects, $1290 per 1m pair
Price: $28,000 per pair
Vade said: Although the LSA8+8 couldn’t reproduce the bottommost octave of the audioband (20-40Hz) in my room, they reproduced everything -- and I mean everything -- above that better than I’ve heard it done by almost any other speaker at any price.
The gist: In this case, a lot of drivers equals lots of performance.
Price: $7995 per pair
Roger said: I highly recommend the Audio Physic Avanti. In the game of high-end loudspeakers, it’s a serious contender that deserves very strong consideration.
The gist: German-made speaker is a soundstaging wonder.
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.
Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.
The gist: You get all this for that?!
Tim said: The performance I heard from the CD5 told me silver discs hold more information than I previously thought -- and Audio Research has figured out how to deliver it at an honest price.
The gist: A sure bet for your last CD player.
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.
Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.
The gist: Sure to be a popular choice for computing audiophiles.
John said: I don’t care what you’re looking for, whether you’re on a budget, looking to downsize, upgrade, or whatever: You need to hear this integrated. But get ready to have your preconceptions about solid-state and class-D amps take a beating: The DSi200 can stand with the best separates I’ve heard.
Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.
The gist: Class-D from ARC? Yes, and it sounds great.
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.
Vade said: For me, the point of diminishing returns is the LS28. If your budget can swing it, I strongly recommend that you audition the LS28. You might like it as much as I did.
The gist: The, ahem, foundation of your new stereo system.
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.
The gist: Another knockout preamp from the company known for knockout preamps.
Pete said: The ARC Reference 10 is one of the most thrilling, intoxicating, musically engrossing preamplifiers ever made. Congratulations to Audio Research Corporation for their aspirations and their execution. Kudos, too, for the introduction of a superior user interface, more attractive appearance, and tactile luxury.
The gist: Even better than the Reference Anniversary?
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.
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.
The gist: Should be on your shortlist for the best preamps extant.
S. Andreasaid: The Audio Research VSi60 is not inexpensive at $3995, but its sound and build qualities are commensurate with its price. When you consider that it’s designed and built in the US by a company with a long and solid reputation, that price seems even more reasonable.
The gist: Get into classic ARC sound for under four grand.
Rad said: Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 headphones blindsided me. I’d expected very good commuter cans that would be good for casual listening. Instead, I discovered a set of audiophile headphones that live up to the Hi-Res Audio badge they wear.
The gist: Good sound on the go from a respected source.
Rad said: There’s much to like in the ATH-DSR7BTs. Are they harbingers of the digital future? Perhaps -- but as alternatives to traditional designs of Bluetooth headphones, their time is now.
The gist: New-tech by AT seems to work like a champ.
Award: Reviewers' Choice
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.
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.
Kevin said: The Audioengine N22 is a terrific little component and an incredible value. It's small, inexpensive, and ridiculously easy to use.
The gist: The amp to get for a portable hi-fi system.
Price: $249 per pair
Kevin said: . . . the P4 is a great speaker and an incredible value. You’re going to have to spend a lot more -- a whole lot more -- to achieve the measures of sound quality and packaging convenience afforded by the Audioengine P4.
The gist: Get your motor running with the tiny Audioengine P4.
Brent said: Their combination of wear-’em-all-day comfort and superbly balanced sound makes the AF1120s one of the most appealing sets of earphones I’ve reviewed.
The gist: A marked improvement over the company’s AF140 earphones.
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.
Jeff said: With V2 of the Aura Note music system, April Music has produced a versatile, adaptable, complete home-audio system in a single box.
The gist: The centerpiece of your new living-room entertainment system.
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.
Brent said: The Flow is an upscale product with excellent sound quality and ergonomics, and impressive versatility. I expect it to be a big hit with headphone enthusiasts whose primary source component is a laptop computer.
The gist: Perhaps the coolest headphone amp out there.
Pete said: For the well-heeled, obsessive-compulsive audiophile, and/or all who have invested in statement-level digital gear and strive to eliminate from their systems any compromises, the W20 should fit the bill.
The gist: Probably the best music server.
Jeff said: If you’ve wanted an Aurender S10, but were put off by its price and don’t need its myriad connection options, then I see nothing that should hold you back from the X100L. It’s a killer little product.
The gist: Excellent choice for a plug’n’play music server.
Randall said: Paying careful attention to build and finish quality, AV123 has delivered a properly engineered speaker system that is also a great value well within the budgets of many. For only $1246, the ELT525 system can bring into your home the excitement of movie-theater sound. In short, this system could be the one and only speaker purchase the shopper on a budget ever makes.
The gist: Lotta speaker system, not a lotta money.
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: $799 to $1616.25
Vince said: If you’re looking for a small yet powerful music system for streaming tunes, look no further than the AxiomAir N3 -- you won’t be disappointed.
The gist: Potent portable goes anywhere you want music.
Vince said: . . . if you have a large room and you’re in the market for a cost-no-object subwoofer, then give the Axiom Audio EP800 v3 a listen. It competes with subwoofers that cost several thousand dollars more, and might just save you a ton of money.
The gist: Axiom's worthy entry into the bad-boy subwoofer sweepstakes.
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.
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.
The gist: A heck of a lot of home theater for the money.
Price: $2790-$4167.60 per pair
Oliver said: Axiom deserves a gold medal -- or, better still, a Reviewers’ Choice award -- for how much sonic goodness they’ve packed into the wonderful M100. That they’re able to do so for a starting price of only $2790/pair is wondrous indeed. The Axiom M100 stands as one of the best-balanced reasonably priced speakers I’ve heard.
The gist: Driver-packed large floorstander that costs less than you’d think.
Uday said: If you buy one, I’m confident that it would be the last amp you bought for a very long while, if not the very last.
The gist: Ayre squeezes even more performance from the integrated amplifier.
Tim said: Perhaps the strongest compliment I can bestow on the Ayre C-5xeMP is that it changed my perspective on what digital sound reproduction is capable of. It brought me closer to the music, and I’m spoiled all over again.
The gist: All you really need in an audio-only disc player.
Price: $9950 in silver (add $250 for black)
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.
The gist: Maybe he best universal player yet.
Aron said: The attention to detail, quality, and performance that I have experienced while reviewing the formidable KX-5 preamplifier has reaffirmed my position that Ayre Acoustics makes some of the best audio gear money can buy. Putting aside my quibbles about ergonomics, I found nothing to dislike in the KX-5 -- it performed flawlessly, exhibited outstanding sound quality, and proved to be the quietest preamplifier I have ever heard in my system. Add to this a five-year warranty, and an undeniable dedication to customer service, and I can enthusiastically recommend it not only to you, but also for a Reviewers’ Choice award.
The gist: One of the best sub-$10k preamps.
Aron said: The KX-5 Twenty strives for purity of sound through purity of signal, and emphasizes that the first step toward true transparency is silence. The levels of build quality, and the close attention paid to selection and implementation of parts and materials, have resulted in what I consider to be the industry benchmark in solid-state preamplification for less than $10,000.
The gist: Ayre hits another one out of the park.
Peter said: As for the KX-R, I can’t say enough good things. I believe it to be the most complete product Ayre has ever made -- a defining achievement for a company known for its string of audio achievements. The KX-R is an ideal reference tool for my life as a reviewer, and an ideal instrument for my audiophile passions.
The gist: One of the best preamps in the world, period.
Jeff said: It stands to reason that if Ayre Acoustics’ original KX-R was the best preamp I’d ever had in my system, and the KX-R Twenty is even better, then the KX-R Twenty is the new “best preamp I’ve ever heard.” It is. I used the Twenty in a system that acts as a microscope on my recordings, and I heard no shortcomings in the Ayre. Smooth, revealing, neutral, utterly effortless, liquid -- it does it all.
The gist: As good as a preamp gets.
Price: $18,500 per pair
Peter said: The MX-R monoblock amplifiers signified the dawning of a new era at Ayre. With their prodigious power capabilities, they can drive the difficult loads of low-sensitivity speakers with aplomb. Most important, however, they deliver the sonic goods, possessing that very rare ability to communicate in captivating fashion even the music on less-than-stellar recordings. That multiple tube fanatics of my acquaintance have ditched their tube power amps in favor of MX-Rs says it all.
The gist: Compact design, reference sound.
Price: $29,500 per pair
Pete said: With the Twenty-series models, and particularly the MX-R Twenty monoblocks, I’m convinced that Ayre Acoustics has closed the gap between tube sound and solid-state sound.
The gist: New version of Ayre’s flagship amplifier delivers the goods.
Peter said: . . . I’m sure that many thousands of QB-9s will soon be enhancing the lives of many thousands of computer audiophiles.
The gist: Awesome asynchronous audio à la Ayre.
Colin said: When a component raises the bar as much as the QB-9DSD did in my system, I think I’d sell a kidney to keep it. So far that hasn’t proved necessary, and at the $700 upgrade price I won’t have to sell even an eyelash.
The gist: One of the original USB DACs gets a makeover.
Philip said: What I can say is that the QX-5 Twenty is a beautifully designed, well-built component that could easily anchor a state-of-the-art sound system for years to come.
The gist: Classic Ayre sound in a modern digital source.
Doug said: The VX-5 is an extremely accomplished-sounding power amplifier that I could easily listen to and live with as my personal reference for a long, long time, without ever feeling in the slightest shortchanged. For many -- even those expecting to spend a lot more -- it may be the perfect amplifier.
The gist: Ayre’s entry level might just be your reference level.
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.
Uday said: As of today, the AX-5 is not only, overall, the finest-sounding amp I’ve ever heard, it ranks as one of the finest components I’ve heard of any type. Or, to put it another way while emphasizing one of its strongest suits: This is the best damn integrated I’ve never heard. The AX-5 is truly a Goldilocks amp: not too hot and not too cold, it’s just right.
The gist: Might be the best integrated you can buy.
Price:$58,000 as configured ($30,000 base price).
Jeff said:It can work wonders, and it won’t be outclassed by anyother single component in the equation. The Behold APU768 is the most advanced piece of high-end electronics I’ve ever used.
The gist: The future of ultra-high-end preamps?
Prices: $2695 (DAC3VB), $1495 (VBS1)
Tim said: . . . you simply have to try the e.One DAC3VB with VBS1 power supply to see if the dramatic differences I experienced are possible in your home as well. The DAC3VB significantly and substantially improved the best digital sound I’ve had in my system.
The gist: Competes with the best, but at a reasonable cost.
Tim said:But given what I heard, the CD2 on its own will far surpass many other digital components; just make sure it’s in 24-bit/192kHz mode when using its analog outputs.
Read the SoundStage! review. Read the Ultra Audio review.
The gist: Modern sound and chic design at a fairly reasonable price.
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.
The gist: Digital control center for a high-quality, high-value system.
Dan said: The Bel Canto e.Ones also made my short list of gear that encourages further listening. The pleasure of my extended listening sessions with them was characterized by a desire to hear “just one more CD,” regardless of the hour. That, to me, distinguishes the best from the rest.
The gist: Good now, and upgradeable in the future: a solid buy.
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.
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