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: 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.
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.
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: $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.
Read the SoundStage! Access review.
The gist: The new speaker-to-get-under-$2000 class leader.
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.
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: $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: $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.
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.
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.
Aron said: The Bel Canto e.One REF150S is the most musical amplifier I have heard south of $5000, with the exceptions of its bigger brothers, the REF500S and REF500M. If you’re in the market for a wonderfully musical two-channel amplifier that offers tremendous value and performance, rock-solid build quality, and uses a minimal amount of power, you owe it to yourself to audition Bel Canto’s e.One REF150S.
The gist: Clean, small, efficient -- should be a good fit for a compact system.
Doug said: I know of no other component that offers these three functions and such a high level of sound quality across the board. The DAC1 HDR can be compared with components costing much, much more -- which is exactly what I did in my listening.
The gist: Three-in-one component with separates sound quality.
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.
Philip said: But those willing to get past the Fon Lo Thingee’s no-frills looks to just hear how good it sounds might be rewarded: the performance of their systems might be taken to the next level for very little money.
The gist: Not a pipe bomb, but a good phono stage.
Thom said: If you’re into the game of ‘my amp is bigger than your amp,’ the GDC will come up a bit short -- put it in an equipment rack and you probably won’t even notice it. But if your priority is fine, solid, realistic sound, the Blue Circle GDC is just the ticket.
Read the GoodSound!review.
The gist: Plain-Jane looks, real-looker sound.
Price: $229, six-outlet version; $199, four-outlet version
Roger said: It significantly improved the performance of both my reference and inexpensive audio systems -- so much that it has found a permanent home in my reference system.
The gist: Can’t pronounce it, don’t want to look at it, but it sounds great.
Roger said: Though most high-end audio manufacturers may have abandoned the budget market, Cambridge Audio continues to produce many products in this category, and have imbued their entry-level Azur 350A integrated amplifier with levels of performance and quality that belie its $499 price. If you're looking for an integrated amplifier for a modest yet still audiophile-approved system, the Azur 350A is an excellent choice.
The gist: Cambridge: Still catering to audiophiles with a solid integrated under five bills.
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.
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?
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.
Prices: $125 per 2m cord
Hans said: These entry-level offerings from a company already known for its rather humble pricing policies are as unassuming in performance as they are in appearance. Doing nothing wrong and a good deal right, they offer value in the form of affordable performance, a quality sure to be appreciated by any listener.
The gist: Sanely priced, good audio cables. Imagine that.
Prices: $3.50 per foot (Odyssey speaker cables), $60 per 1m pair (White Lightning interconnects)
Price: $49.95 per 1m pair
Jarrett said: They’ve created in the Silver Sonic White Lightning, at $49.95/1m pair, an incredibly cost-effective interconnect that gives the developing audiophile on a modest budget a great upgrade from generic interconnects, and that will result in a greatly improved listening experience.
The gist: Do you need to spend more on interconnects?
Price: $1200 per pair
Doug said: But it’s the Dynaudio Excite X12’s considerable strengths that make it special, even unique -- I don’t know of another small speaker that plays quite like this one.
The gist: The Danes make another great little speaker.
Rob said: The A5-350 was equally at home with music or movies -- a great attribute, and the sort of all-around versatility that makes purchasing an A5-350 a valid choice for audiophiles who seek a substantial subwoofer at a terrific price for their own large listening room or home theater.
The gist: Forget those little dinky subs -- shake the walls with this monster.
Price: $2990 per pair
Doug said: Focus Audio’s Signature FS8 is a killer speaker by almost every measure: It looks fantastic, it sounds wonderful, and its price is something many can afford.
The gist: Not exactly cheap, but hits all the right buttons.
S. Andrea said: Other DAC/headphone amplifiers at about the GT40’s price support 24/96 files, but very few of them can also be used purely as a headphone amplifier -- and none, as far as I know, has a built-in phono stage. If you’re content to buy a GT40 for those features alone, $525 is not an unreasonable price for this level of performance. Of course, the GT40 also includes an ADC, which makes it a one-box solution for converting the output of your turntable into digital files. If you’re looking for a high-quality way to get high-quality sound out of your computer and want to digitize the occasional LP, then the Furutech GT40 is a really good choice.
The gist: A Swiss Army Knife for the digital age.
Price: $1395 per pair
Colin said: The Gemme Audio Tonic G5 is an outstanding speaker. It is the most exciting audio product I’ve crossed paths with this year, and it’s the biggest bargain, too. In fact, it’s probably all the speaker that most people with smaller rooms will ever need or want.
The gist: Colin has officially fallen in love with a speaker.
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.
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.
Ron said: The Hegel Music Systems HD2 is the Swiss Army knife of high-end audio -- but imagine such a knife with a Kikuichi Yanagi sushi blade. For the absolutely sane price of $350, the HD2 would be a bargain even if it were only a DAC or a USB-to-S/PDIF converter. The fact that it does both more than competently makes it a real standout, especially when you consider the competition.
The gist: Low-priced DAC with a Norwegian twist.
Price: $2100 USD in Black Satin finish; $2200 High-Gloss Black finish
Vade said: $2100 is pretty pricey for a 10” subwoofer -- but that’s like comparing Chevy’s Aveo with its Corvette. While they’re both cars, the Corvette provides a level of performance that’s totally beyond the Aveo’s capabilities. And while the Corvette is unquestionably expensive, you’d be hard-pressed to find a car that provides more performance at its price point. The Fathom f110 is similar: It’s not the cheapest 10” subwoofer on the market, but I challenge you to find a better one at its price -- or at any price. I haven’t.
The gist: Possibly the best 10" subwoofer you can buy.
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.
Kevin said: When you get a superb movie system on top of a pair of excellent, affordable stereo speakers, you've captured the very best of both applications. Not only has MartinLogan stepped audaciously outside their comfort zone, they've produced an affordable line of pretty nifty speakers, each of which performs excellently.
The gist: MartinLogan sound at a new price point.
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.
Prices: $99 each (SuperZero 2.0), $349 (Super 8)
Roger said: The pristine sound quality of these speakers satisfied the audiophile in me, and their ability to play loud and low made them, together, a system that I could enjoy and live with over the long term. If you’re looking for a speaker system in the neighborhood of $500, the NHT SuperZero 2.0 with Super 8 is a real find. I’ll be buying the review samples to use as my reference real-world speakers.
The gist: The model that continues to stand the test of time.
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.
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.
Price: $279.99 each in Ash Black Grain
Brooke said: I can’t think of any similarly priced passive speaker that equals its overall performance. The DSP gives the A2 the deep low end of a bass-reflex design, but with the tightness of a sealed cabinet. The A2 offers genuine high fidelity in the form of a very balanced sound throughout the audioband that never left me feeling tired. Despite its affordable price, it has no significant shortcomings.
The gist: Powered Paradigm to the people.
Vince said: The sound in my room is now so much better that there’s no way this kit is going back to Primacoustic. If you have a similar man cave with mostly bare walls and are looking to improve its sound, I urge you to give one of Primacoustic’s London kits a try before you upgrade your electronics. I’d bet it would make that upgrade unnecessary.
The gist: Make your system sound a whole lot better for five bills.
Price: $299 per pair
Hans said: PSB’s Alpha PS1 is the perfect desktop companion, and $299 is a paltry outlay for speakers with so much engineering tucked into them. They just worked, and quite well.
The gist: Fine little powered speaker from Paul Barton and co.
Hans said: The Sphinx made everything I played through it sound compelling. Yes, you could spend more for an integrated amp that offers more power or higher performance. But on the scale of musical enjoyment per dollar spent, I found Rogue Audio’s Sphinx to score very high.
The gist: American-made hybrid integrated amp that sounds great.
Colin said: It has all the traditional Simaudio virtues in spades, plus an even-greater-than-normal degree of performance per dollar spent. Even when I’m being exceedingly picky, I can’t find fault with this excellent DAC.
The gist: Colin's new reference DAC.
Jason said: For $79.99, the Spin-Clean Record Washer Mk.II is a smokin’ deal. It does a fantastic job, it’s easy to use, it’s quiet and sanitary. I’m thrilled with it.
The gist: The one to get for the money.
Price: $1998 per pair
Thom said: The SVS Ultra Tower is a phenomenal accomplishment at the price; there’s just nothing I’ve heard for $2000/pair, or even for significantly more, that comes close.
The gist: A solid value in a full-range floorstander.
Thom said: It’s a great piece of gear, and I don’t want to return it to TEAC. It’s incredibly versatile, compact, and fairly full-featured, with enough power to fill with excellent sound a room of moderate size. It has all the latest kit -- USB port, Internet Radio, iPod connectivity, etc. -- while looking backward as well, with a competent FM tuner and a fine-sounding phono preamp. The CR-H500NT can serve as the foundation of a very fine stereo system, and for all it offers, it’s inexpensive. I heartily recommend it.
The gist: A great foundational component for a small stereo system.
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.
Doug said: It’s difficult to heap enough praise on this $900 DAC without sounding like an employee of Wavelength’s PR firm. But if you want your digital recordings to thrill you the way you’re thrilled by a fantastic analog front end, while retaining everything that’s good about digital playback, the Proton is the least expensive way I know of to get there. It delivers ultra-high-end digital sound at a price that’s realistic for audiophiles who can’t consider products that cost many times as much.
The gist: One of the best USB DACs from the company that helped create the genre.