2013 Recommended Components
Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile and have been found to be among the best available in each of four or five quality classes. Whether a component is listed in Class A or Class E, we highly recommend its purchase.
Each listing—in alphabetical order within classes—is followed by a brief description of the product's sonic characteristics and a code indicating the Stereophile Volume and Issue in which that product's report appeared. Thus the September 2012 issue is indicated as "Vol.35 No.9."
Some products listed have not yet been reported on; these are marked (NR), for "Not Reviewed." We recommend that you read any product's entire review before seriously contemplating a purchase (products without reviews should therefore be treated with more caution)—many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the reviews, but not here. To obtain back issues of the magazine, visit our website: www.stereophile.com. We regret that we cannot supply photocopies or e-mail copies of individual reviews. All full reviews are reprinted in our website "Archives" Section: these are marked "WWW." More are added each week, so check the on-line listing.
In general, components do not remain listed for more than three years unless at least one of the magazine's writers and editors has had continued experience with them. Discontinuation of a model also precludes its appearance. In addition, though professional components—recorders, amplifiers, monitor speaker systems—can be obtained secondhand and can sometimes offer performance that would otherwise guarantee inclusion, we do not generally do so. Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing is almost exclusively concerned with products currently available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets.
How recommendations are determined
The ratings given components included in this listing are based entirely on performance—ie, accuracy of reproduction—and are biased to an extent by our feeling that things added to reproduced sound (eg, flutter, distortion, colorations of various kinds) are of more concern to the musically oriented listener than are things subtracted from the sound (eg, deep bass or extreme treble). On the other hand, components markedly deficient in one or more respects are downrated to the extent that their deficiencies interfere with the full realization of the program material.
We try to include in "Recommended Components" every product that we have found to be truly excellent or that we feel represents good value for money. Bear in mind that many different tastes are represented. The listing is compiled after consultation with Stereophile's reviewing staff and editors, and takes into account continued experience of a product after the formal review has been published. In particular, we take account of unreliability and defects that show up after extended auditioning. The fact that a product received a favorable review cannot therefore be regarded as a guarantee that it will continue to appear in this listing.
The prices indicated are those current at the time the listing was compiled (January 2013). We cannot guarantee that any of these prices will be the same by the time this issue of Stereophile appears in print.
There is a near-universal consensus that at some point in the upward climb of component prices, severely diminishing returns (performance versus price) set in. However, there is no agreement as to the exact price level at which that takes place. Where we have found a product to perform much better than might be expected from its price, we have drawn attention to it with a $$$ next to its listing. We also indicate, with a ✩, products that have been on this list in one incarnation or another since the "Recommended Components" listing in Vol.33 No.4 (April 2010). Longevity in a hi-fi component is rare enough that we think it worth noting (although it can also indicate that the attention of design engineers has moved elsewhere).
We are not sympathetic toward letters complaining that the Symphonic Bombast A-123 that we recommended heartily two years ago no longer makes it into "Recommended Components." Where deletions are made, we endeavor to give reasons (there are always reasons). But remember: Deletion of a component from this list does not invalidate a buying decision you have made.
Individual reviewers mentioned by their initials are: John Atkinson, Jim Austin, Paul Bolin, Lonnie Brownell, Martin Colloms, Brian Damkroger, Robert Deutsch, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, Fred Kaplan, Erick Lichte, John Marks, Stephen Mejias, Paul Messenger, Thomas J. Norton, Wes Phillips, Bob J. Reina, Kalman Rubinson, Markus Sauer, Jonathan Scull (J-10), Chip Stern, and Sam Tellig.
How to Use the Listings
The classes each cover a wide range of performance. Carefully read our descriptions here, the original reviews, and (heaven forbid) reviews in other magazines to put together a short list of components to choose from. Evaluate your room, your source material and front-end(s), your speakers, and your tastes. With luck, you may come up with a selection to audition at your favorite dealer(s). "Recommended Components" will not tell you what to buy any more than Consumer Reports would presume to tell you whom to marry!
Best attainable sound for a component of its kind, almost without practical considerations; "the least musical compromise." A Class A system is one for which you don't have to make a leap of faith to believe that you're hearing the real thing. With Super Audio CD, 24/96 DAD, and DVD-Audio now available, we have created a new Class, A+, for the best performance in those digital categories. Class A now represents the best that can be obtained from the conventional 16/44.1 CD medium. We also created Class A+ categories for turntables and phono preamps, to recognize the achievements of the Continuum Caliburn and Boulder 2008, respectively.
The next best thing to the very best sound reproduction; Class B components generally cost less than those in Class A, but most Class B components are still quite expensive.
Somewhat lower-fi sound, but far more musically natural than average home-component high fidelity; products in this class are of high quality but still affordable.
Satisfying musical sound, but these components are either of significantly lower fidelity than the best available, or exhibit major compromises in performance—limited dynamic range, for example. Bear in mind that appearance in Class D still means that we recommend this product—it's possible to put together a musically satisfying system exclusively from Class D components.
Applying to “Loudspeakers,” these are entry-level products.
"Keep your eye on this product." Class K is for components that we have not reviewed (or have not finished testing), but that we have reason to believe may be excellent performers. We are not actually recommending these components, only suggesting you give them a listen. Though the report has yet to be published in certain cases, the reviewer and editor sometimes feel confident enough that the reviewer's opinion is sufficiently well formed to include what otherwise would be an entry in one of the other classes, marked (NR).