2012 Recommended Components
Note: There is an iPad app version of this Recommended Components list that includes additional functionality such as Quick Search and Entry Tagging. The app is available right now for free download to your iPad in the iTunes store. In iTunes, search for "Stereophile Recommended Components" or follow this link to the iTunes store from your web browser.
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 2010 issue is indicated as “Vol.33 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 “Read Review Online.” 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 editors’ 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 (February 2012). 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.32 No.4 (April 2009). 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.